§ 3.3 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE. DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Baroness Birk)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Birk.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The Earl of Listowel in the Chair.]
§ Clause 18 [Recreational facilities]:
§ Lord DE CLIFFORD moved Amendment No. 20:
§ Page 21, line 6, after (" camp sites ") insert (" nature reserves ").
§ The noble Lord said: My noble friend Lord Cranbrook is not well and is therefore unable to be with us this afternoon. He has asked me to move on his behalf the Amendments appearing in his name on the Marshalled List. I must therefore apologise to your Lordships if, by any chance, I am not very " clued up ", as it were, with the details of these Amendments, but I will do my best on behalf of my noble friend.
§ The noble Earl on page 21, line 6, wishes to insert after " camp sites " the words " nature reserves ". To me, this is a very good Amendment to move. The local authorities, particularly in rural areas, but also in some suburban areas, have areas of ground which need only be quite small, where one could have what 14 might almost be called an informal nature reserve, which could be protected from interference, where small mammals, insects or wild flowers, and even, on occasions, rare birds could be found. I beg to move.
§ Lord SANDYS
I should like to support the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, because of course, it will enable a number of local authorities who at present manage nature reserves, or are instruments in so doing, to continue in that regard. I have particular interest in W hat Staffordshire is doing on Cannock Chase. There must be many other local authorities interested in protecting the natural environment, and using a permissive power of this nature. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, is going to refer to the situation so far as sites of scientific interest are concerned, but it occurs to me that there is a situation in which a local authority may wish to look after an area of scientific interest and to promote it as a nature reserve would seem a very sensible thing to do.
§ Baroness BIRK
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the intention of the Amendment so far as the Government are concerned. The only point about it is that it is really not necessary. Under Section 21 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, local authorities already have powers to provide nature reserves. They have used this power satisfactorily in the past, and for this reason there is no need for any additional powers. Therefore the Amendment is unnecessary, so I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.
§ Baroness HORNSBY-SMITH
Before the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, sits down, may I say there is a great movement at present to clear up old ponds and the like, and to encourage wildfowl and duck to use those ponds. When the noble Baroness refers to parks, which may already be the over-riding property of public authorities, would the movement to improve the environment also be covered? If, by their new development, ponds and the like became nature reserves, would they also be covered by the local authority, which would protect them in this manner?
§ Baroness BIRK
As I understand it, the Act to which I referred covers not 15 only National Parks but access to the countryside. Local authorities would have exactly the same powers as they have had before. I have looked into the matter personally, and have raised various questions on it. As I understand it, the matter that the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, has raised is covered in this way, and therefore the Amendment is not necessary. If the matter were not covered by the other Act, it would be covered by the general powers set out in the same clause of the Bill we are now discussing.
Lord LEATHER LAND
Having regard to the fact, as my noble friend has explained, that local authorities have these powers at present, I wonder whether she would consider it desirable to send out a circular to those local authorities giving some general guidance about the way in which these nature centres and reserves should be run ? I know of one not so very far from where I live where, a year or so ago, the officer in charge of the nature centre loosed out a large number of adders into the forest, on the grounds that that was their natural habitat. A few weeks ago, by a coincidence, a boy in the forest was bitten by an adder and seriously injured. It may very well be that some of the officers placed in charge of the nature reserves and centres might interpret the range of their duties in a far wider manner than the general public would desire.
§ Baroness BIRK
It is the intention of the Government when the Bill finally gets on the Statute Book to consider the terms of a circular which would be sent out, on all the recreational facilities in this clause and the general powers. I am sure this will be borne in mind, and I will draw it to the attention of others in my Department. I will also read carefully in Hansard what my noble friend has said.
Lord DE CLIFFORD
In view of what the noble Baroness has said, and of the fact that the wishes of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook are met, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Lord SAN DYS moved Amendment No. 21:16
§ Page 21, line 24, at end insert (" and that the power of provision includes in the case of land power to grant leases upon such terms as the local authority think fit.")
§ The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friends I wish to move this Amendment which at first sight appears to be quite a small and perhaps not very important matter, until we turn to Schedule 2 to the Bill and realise what the Government intend in the course of their repeals. In Schedule 2 we read that Sections 4 and 5 of the 1937 Physical Training and Recreation Act are to be repealed, and Clause 18 is intended to replace, so far as the administration of this Act is concerned, the powers granted under Section 4 of the 1937 Act. How-ever, unfortunately, Clause 18 combined with Sections 123 and 127 of the Local Government Act 1972 do not go far enough.
If your Lordships will bear with me, I should like to quote one sentence from Section 4 of the 1937 Act to explain what it does:
manage those lands … themselves, either with or without a charge for the use thereof or admission thereto, or may let them, or any portion thereof, at a nominal or other rent to any person, club, society or organisation for use for any of the purposes aforesaid ".
§ The power provided in Clause 18(1) of this Bill does not include the power of leasing in the 1937 Act, and this, I think, is particularly important. The words I have just read include the word " rent ", and when we look at the Bill nobody would interpret the words " charge " and " charges " in subsection (2) as including rent. Thus the effect of the repeal of Section 4 of the 1937 Act is to repeal the leasing powers in that Act. This will have very wide effect, because, of course, a large number of local authorities either lease, or have arrangements whereby they take on lease from charitable and other bodies halls, grounds and other properties for the purposes of recreation. This is considerably more important than may appear at first sight, because there are literally thousands of leases, usually running between 28 and 40 years. They are either under the 1937 Act or under the predecessor Act, the Public Health Act 1925. Properties are mostly playing fields, open air recreational facilities in country areas, community centres in towns; and our present estimate is that well over 2,000 17 village halls and some 700 community centres are concerned with leases of this nature.
What is going to happen if one of these existing leases falls due for renewal? It would be unfortunate if this happened in the immediate future without the Government having made an alteration to Clause 18 of this Bill, because it would generate a great deal of correspondence. Perhaps I may refer to what was said in regard to a similar Amendment to this which was before another place on 10th May 1976. I quote from the Minister, Mr. Guy Barnett, who said:
Under the clause as drafted, any land held for the purposes of those powers or the 1937 Act will be leased under Sections 123—principal councils—and 127 —parish and community councils—of the Local Government Act 1972. This is more restrictive. It requires the consent of the Secretary of State where land is leased at less than the best consideration. This could result in the Department receiving many thousands of requests for such consents, and most of these would be from parish and community councils.
Then he went on to say, and this is very important:
It is agreed that local authorities should have the same freedom as they have under the 1937 Act. This can be achieved by a general consent under Section 128(1) of the Local Government Act 1972, and such a consent to the disposal of property held for the purposes of Section 4 and property under this clause for purposes corresponding to those of that section will be given before Section 4 is repealed."—[Official Report, Commons, 10/5/76; Col. 121.]
§ We contend from this side of the Committee that that will not be quite sufficient, because although the sections referred to in the 1972 Act are to some extent satisfactory they are, as the Minister himself admits, considerably more restrictive. They are restrictive as regards area and they are restrictive as regards other matters of particular importance to leases. So, in our view, it would be very much better if the Government would consider the Amendment as set out. I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
As the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has explained the background to this and what it is about so very clearly, I will not take up the Committee's time by going over it again. As he quite rightly said, my honourable friend in another place promised that a general consent would be given to cover such transactions in respect of property held under Section 4 of the 1937 Act in respect 18 of property held under this clause. This will be done by way of circular, and it will leave local authorities in the same position as they are at present under the 1937 Act. If leases fall due, it will not matter, because the general consent promised will come into force at exactly the same time as the clause conies into force—in fact when the Bill is enacted. The Amendment is, therefore, unnecessary, and I hope the noble Lord will withdraw it.
§ Lord SANDYS
I am much obliged to the noble Baroness for that assurance. I am not entirely satisfied in this regard, because I feel the centre of the argument is that a great deal of correspondence would be generated and uncertainty would occur. I am much obliged to the noble Baroness for her assurance about a Departmental circular, but it is very important that these circulars should reach those particular parish councils or other bodies where leases are due for renewal. On so many occasions they are pigeonholed at some earlier stage in their career, and the body which is anxious to renew its lease may have difficulty in finding out what is happening. There is an area of doubt here which I would wish to pursue before the next stage of the Bill, and, therefore, with your Lordships' permission I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 18 agreed to.
§ Clause 19 [Provision of sanitary appliances at places of entertainment]:
§ Lord AIREDALE moved Amendment No. 22:
§ Page 22, line 40, after (" so ") insert (" it").
§ The noble Lord said: This is pure drafting. The interests of good English seem to require the word " it " to be inserted at that point. I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
I understand that the clause is clear as it stands. Nevertheless, I agree with the noble Lord and I think the Amendment reads rather better and sounds better. Therefore, I happily accept his Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.19
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 23:
§ Page 22, line 45, leave out from (" building ") to end of paragraph (a) and insert (" for which fixed sanitary appliances could be required by virtue of building regulations in force when the notice is served if the building were to be newly constructed then, of fixed sanitary appliances which are of a different kind from, or which as respects a particular kind are more numerous than, those which could be required as aforesaid; ").
§ The noble Baroness said: The effect of the Amendment is to limit the fixed sanitary appliances a notice may require, provided that building regulations are in force as respects similar new buildings, to those which could be required if the building to which the notice relates were being newly constructed. This is a drafting Amendment designed to correct an error in subsection (3)(a) of Clause 19, which in essence prevents a notice requiring more generous fixed sanitary appliances to be provided than could be required by building regulations.
§ The fault in subsection (3)(a) arises from the fact that it presupposes that there are in existence building regulations applicable to buildings to which a notice requiring fixed sanitary appliances relates. This is not so, for although building regulations could require the provision of fixed sanitary appliances in buildings if they were to be newly constructed they do not at present do so. A notice served now in relation to a building could therefore not require a person to provide any appliances because he could not be required by building regulations to provide any.
§ The Amendment overcomes this defect by making it clear that the limitation by reference to building regulations applies only to buildings in relation to which building regulations are actually in force at the date of the serving of the notice. Thus, until building regulations come into force local authorities will not be tied by the limitations contained in subsection (3); this subsection will come into operation with the making of appropriate regulations. The Amendment has a further benefit in that it clarifies the criteria, by reference to which the limitation is to work, by replacing the words " more onerous " in the clause as drafted by explicit reference to the kinds and numbers of appliances which could be required under building regulations. This is a very technical and complicated matter, and 20 I can only say that I think that the Amendment is rather clearer than my explanation. I beg to move.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I hope that when the circulars come to be written they will be slightly clearer than that explanation of this Amendment because I found it rather difficult to follow. Just to make quite sure that I have got it clear in my mind, I understood the noble Baroness to say that actually this is a drafting Amendment to make clear that the position of someone putting in fixed sanitary appliances will not in fact be worse than it would have been had the building been a new building to which building regulations apply. Is that the essence of it? Have I got it correct?
§ Baroness BIRK
Yes, I think so, because it says that although building regulations could require the provision of fixed sanitary appliances in buildings if they were to he newly constructed they do not do so at present. The Amendment overcomes the defect by making it clear that the limitation by reference to building regulations applies only to buildings in relation to which the regulations are actually in force at the date of serving the notice. It is really to stop making, if you like, over-demands which would be unfair and unreasonable.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Lord AIREDALE moved Amendment No. 24:
§ Page 23, line 9, after (" specify ") insert (" a period (which shall not be within six weeks beginning with the date of service of the notice) ").
§ The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 24 and the next one I think stand or fall together, so perhaps we could discuss them together. We are still within the province of obscure wording. I must say that on first reading I did not find subsection (3)(c) at all easy to understand, and yet when one does grasp it the message is quite clear. What it is saying is that a person must not be required to do work within a period which expires before his time for appeals expires against having to do the work. If your Lordships look for a moment at the next clause you find that the time for appeals is six weeks, and in this Amendment I have taken those six weeks and inserted them into this para- 21 graph. I think that makes this paragraph much more easily comprehensible and straightforward and is an improvement on the wording of paragraph (c). I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
Unfortunately, I do not think that the noble Lord's Amendment makes it clearer. In fact, it is not entirely clear what it does. The intention of the Amendments—and I agree with him that it is better to take them both together—seems to be to specify in Clause 19 a minimum period of six weeks which shall be specified in a notice under the section, et cetera, but for this purpose the wording is faulty. At the moment the clause requires that a notice which is not an occasional notice shall allow a period equal to, or longer than, that allowed by Clause 20 for an appeal. Clause 20 allows six weeks for an appeal. Thus the Amendment, as it is now drafted. would achieve nothing of substance and the clause, as it stands, makes plain the connection between the minimum period and the appeal period.
I should point out that Clause 20(6) makes a notice of no effect pending determination of an appeal and provides power for the court, if it does not quash a notice, to extend the period for compliance; that is, if there is no appeal there is a minimum period of six weeks, and if there is an appeal the court decides the period. If I may suggest it, I think that this is rather technical, and as there seems to he a difference between us on the meaning of the words in the Amendment, I wonder whether, in order to save time, I might write to the noble Lord, now that I have heard his explanation this afternoon, and take it together with the Amendment, as drafted, and we can see where we get to from there. I do not think there is anything further I can say now in relation to the Amendment he has on the Order Paper.
§ Lord AIREDALE
I think that is an excellent suggestion. These questions of how to draft a clause are hopelessly difficult to deal with in the course of debate. I shall read what the noble Baroness has said in Hansard tomorrow. It may he that between us we can improve paragraph (c) as it now stands, at the next stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.22
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord AIREDALEmoved Amendment No. 25A:
§ Page 24, line 25, a end insert—
§ The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 25A seeks to exempt from Clause 19 the places of entertainment, that is cinemas and bingo halls, which are the subject of the Cinematograph Acts of 1909 and 1952—that is for cinemas—and the Gaming Act 1968 in the case of bingo halls. Before cinemas or bingo halls can obtain a licence they have to satisfy the local authority with regard to the provision of sanitary appliances. Having satisfied the local authority on that score, and on all other scores, they then obtain a licence. Having gone through that hoop and obtained a licence for the bingo hall or the cinema hall, if the proprietor afterwards is approached again by the local authority, who could say, " Now you have got to make other provision for sanitary appliances under Section 19 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act ", I should imagine that the attitude of the cinema proprietor would he that this was very near to a fraudulent practice. His attitude would be, " Well, why didn't you say so when I applied for and received my licence to run my cinema? "
§ I think it would be a very great injustice if the sanitary appliances required for the purpose of the licence under the other Act were not sufficient and that the cinema proprietor was in any danger of falling within the mischief of Clause 19. I hope, therefore, that there will be an exemption from the provisions of Clause 19 in respect of cinemas and bingo halls. I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
The main reason why I am asking the Committee to resist this Amendment is that, first, the powers of the clause are discretionary. If the local authority makes unreasonable requirements there is the right of appeal to the county court, and that, surely, is the right way for the merits of notices served under the clause to be challenged. It would be wrong to exempt a whole class of premises in advance when the clause provides for every case to be considered on its merits. Also, the granting of either of the licences 23 mentioned in the Amendment would not preclude use of the same premises for other purposes. The Amendment would, however, prevent the local authority from requiring provision of appliances which might be appropriate to those other purposes. In addition, since the Cinematograph Acts and this clause will be administered by the same authorities—that is, except in London—there should be no danger of conflicting requirements being imposed.
I understand the motivation behind the Amendment, but it does not seem to justify declining to allow local authorities powers to require reasonable facilities to be provided, especially when there is a right of appeal against conditions considered to be unreasonable. I think the same argument applies to premises licensed under the Gaming Act. There again it is difficult to understand why they should be specially chosen for exemption. The relevant places caught under the entertainment wing of Clause 19 are those normally used, or proposed to be normally used, for the holding of any entertainment, exhibition or sporting event to which members of the public are admitted, either as spectators or otherwise.
In any case, the Amendment is defective as it refers to " licence " in the singular under the Cinematograph Acts of 1909 and 1952 and the Gaming Act 1968. The licensing systems are, in fact, separate. It is not clear whether the intention is to except from the operation of Clause 19 premises licensed for one purpose or the other, or only premises licensed for both purposes; but !assume that this is a drafting matter, and that this is the former. It is the principle of the exemption of these particular areas that I am asking the Committee to resist. It is true that there are now about 28 local Acts up to 1971 which cover cinemas, and about 28 local Acts since 1971 which exempt cinemas, and there is no reason why we should not do the right thing now in this consolidation Bill. One of its objects was to get things into line so that there was not this great difference between some of the necessities of many local authorities. As I said at the beginning it is a discretionary clause; it is not mandatory, but it is there for those authorities who wish to exercise it.
§ Lord AIREDALE
As regards the point about the right to appeal against an unreasonable requirement, I cannot say that I have studied the Cinematograph Acts and the Gaming Act to see whether the same right of appeal exists under those Acts. My bet would be that it does, and so there is really no difference between us on that point. On the second point where there might be a change of purpose, I imagine that if a cinema ceases to be used as a cinema, or a bingo hall is used for another purpose, then their licences as cinemas or bingo halls would no longer run ; so that would be the answer to that one.
I should, however, have thought one could state the matter as simply as this; that in a small detail like the provision of sanitary appliances, a cinema or bingo hall ought to be required to do it under one Act of Parliament and not more than one. Her Majesty's Government can have it whichever way they like. They can get rid of the sanitary appliances part of the Cinematograph Acts and the Gaming Act, and say that cinemas and bingo halls, like everybody else, must now come under Clause 19. Or, if they are to continue with the system of licences depending partly on sanitary appliances being satisfactory, then Clause 19 of this Bill should not apply to cinemas and bingo halls, so that one Act only is governing what cinema proprietors and bingo hall proprietors could be required to do with regard to the provision of sanitary appliances. Perhaps I can continue to think about this until the next stage. I think that we shall have to come back to it, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 25B:
§ Page 24, line 35, at end insert (" any of the following places— ").
§ The noble Baroness said: The sole purpose of this Amendment is to improve the drafting definition of " relevant place " in Clause 19 to make it clear that the term " relevant place " means any of the places mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) under this heading. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.25
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Lord AIREDALE moved Amendment No. 26:
§ Page 24, line 44, at end insert (" and ").
§ The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 26 is merely a paving Amendment to Amendment No. 27. Therefore, in moving Amendment No. 26, perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 27. The purpose of these two Amendments is to give the Committee the opportunity to consider whether it really thinks it wise to allow, or to encourage, the provision of sanitary appliances in betting shops. I mentioned this topic at Second Reading, and I can take it quite shortly. I think that when the legislation was going through Parliament which set up the betting shops and got rid of the street bookmakers, Parliament was very concerned that there should be no loitering in betting shops. Evidence of that was the fact that Parliament insisted that there should not be televised broadcasting of races in betting shops, because that would encourage people to loiter there.
§ I believe that sound commentaries are allowed but not television. if that is so, and if a betting shop is, therefore, a place to which people are expected to go to carry out their transactions and then leave, just as they do in any other kind of shop, there does not seem really any reason why lavatories should be provided at a betting shop any more than at any other kind of shop. Of course, if Parliament now thinks that this battle has been lost and that people do loiter in betting shops and will continue to do so and that nothing can stop them, I suppose that their comfort can be considered. No doubt lavatories in betting shops would be very convenient for some of the customers. However, I feel that this is a departure from Parliament's intention as to how betting shops were to be treated when they were first set up, and I wonder whether your Lordships would not think that it would be a mistake and would simply encourage people to loiter there if comforts were to be provided in betting shops. With those few words, I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
I remember the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, making this point on Second Reading and I quite understand the intention behind the Amendment. There is no dispute as to the desirability of avoiding encouraging loitering in 26 betting shops. As a member of my local Bench, I clearly remember being concerned at the time when betting shops were being set up in the area that we should try to avoid loitering and being pleased that television sets were not to be permitted. However, the clause, by including betting shops, follows every local Act provision enacted since 1971 and, again, is intended to provide a discretionary power for use when necessary and reasonable. Once more, I must stress that this is not an imposition to make it mandatory upon local authorities to insist on this. However, experience has shown over the years that, although it may be contrary to the wishes of Parliament, some clients stay longer at betting shops than is necessary merely for the transaction of the business in hand. Also, radios are allowed there and, in addition, it is known that, where public conveniences are not available close to betting offices, there have been instances of fouling of nearby premises.
I therefore think that it should be up to the local authorities to make up their minds. I also begin to feel that there is a point beyond which one cannot " nanny " people. One does what one can. We do not make betting shops very comfortable; as the noble Lord pointed out, television sets are not allowed. However, I think that there should be discretion for a local authority to decide whether or not a particular betting shop must install lavatories. I am not convinced that the provision of sanitary facilities will either encourage or discourage betting. I feel that this depends on factors other than the provision of lavatories in a betting shop. I believe that to deny local authorities, as the noble Lord's Amendment would do, a discretionary power would be against the interests of public health. It is for that reason that I ask the Committee to resist the Amendment and not in the interests of increasing the amount of betting or the profits of bookmakers.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, in this Amendment. Indeed, now that I have heard the reply of the noble Baroness, I feel strengthened in my conviction. I do not believe that the issue has anything to do with encouraging people to bet or not to bet. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness on that 27 point, but it seems to me that the purpose of the clause as drafted is the provision of sanitary appliances at places of entertainment. I do not know what is the definition of betting shops, but I am surprised that a betting shop should be known as a place of entertainment. Perhaps what it provides may be entertainment for some people, but others might equally well argue that their idea of entertainment is to spend all the afternoon in a boutique trying on dresses. I can think of people who would argue that case. I do not think it a particularly strong one, but then I do not feel that the case for classing a betting shop as a place of entertainment is particularly strong either.
What I believe to be the substance of the argument is that, in a clause which is concerned with this particular provision at places of entertainment—and I am entirely in agreement with this—betting offices should have been picked out as the only kind of place to be included whereas other shops were not included. It may well be that, as the noble Baroness says, this is following the provisions of other local Acts since 1971 and that every shop that has been opened since 1971 has to provide these facilities: I should be surprised if that is so, but I stand to be corrected if there is some such provision. However, it is surely open to any betting shop, if it so wishes, to provide the facilities in question and I do not see why betting shops should be singled out by local authorities as places which might have to provide such facilities when other shops were not under that obligation.
§ Baroness BIRK
I would say that, in a wide definition of entertainment, one would include betting shops, though one man's entertainment is another man's bore. It would be for me, but it is a personal matter. It is true that people sometimes stay around waiting to listen to the radio to hear the end of the race and that there arc therefore perhaps more people around in a betting shop than go in and out of other shops. It is also true, as the noble Baroness is aware. that sanitary arrangements are often available in other shops and in stores. It varies, but I return to the point which I tried to stress in my original answer which was that this is a discretionary power. I cannot see why noble Lords should want to have it 28 taken out when the decision would be up to the local authority itself. One imagines that, as I pointed out, the places where local authorities will want to enforce this provision will be where there are no public lavatories easily available and where there have been examples of fouling nearby. It is in the interests of public health and seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable and natural provision to include in the Bill. As I said before, no local authority has to implement it. It is purely discretionary and, in a tidying-up Bill of this sort and since it follows every local Act which has been enacted since 1971, as the noble Baroness herself admitted, it seems sensible to incorporate it in the present Bill.
§ Lord AIREDALE
I am very grateful for the support I have received from the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Of course the argument about allowing local authorities to have the discretion can be used in relation to the television sets which are at present not allowed in betting shops. It could be said that local authorities in their wisdom must be able to decide whether a television set in a particular betting shop would encourage loafing there or whether it would be harmless, but the fact is that Parliament has set its face against television because Parliament thinks that television in betting shops would cause loafing. There are certain matters upon which Parliament ought to make up its own mind and should not take the easy way out by saying that it will be left to the discretion of local authorities to do what they like because they are so wise that they will surely do the right thing.
Having said that, I do not know whether if I were to take this matter to a Division, I should win it. I feel that, on balance, having given the Committee the opportunity to discuss the matter and not feeling desperately serious about it myself, I should beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 27A:
§ Page 25, line 4, leave out from beginning to end of line 6.
§ The noble Baroness said: The effect of the Amendment is to bring places of 29 entertainment to which Section 75 of the Public Health Act 1961 applies (that is, pleasure fairs and roller skating rinks) within the scope of Clause 19. Section 75 enables by-laws to be made, inter alia, for preserving sanitary conditions at any pleasure fair or roller skating rink. It seems right to us that pleasure fairs and roller skating rinks, which are places of entertainment to which the public arc admitted, ought to be subject to reasonable requirements to provide sanitary appliances (and maintain and grant access to them) no less than other places of entertainment. Originally these places were excluded from the terms of the clause because it was thought that offences for failure to meet sanitary requirements should not be penalised on the scale provided for by Clause 19 (6), when contravention of safety requirements at pleasure fairs would continue to attract a maximum penalty of £20 under by-laws. However, the exclusion would have resulted in different maximum penalties for the same offence, that is the failure to supply sanitary appliances, committed in different places.
§ We now consider that it would be less anomalous to penalise offences at fairs in respect of sanitary provisions more heavily than those in respect of safety provisions than it would be to penalise offences against sanitary provisions differently according to the place where the offences were committed. The opportunity to revise penalties to take account of inflation should not he missed just because those penalties which remain unamended compare unfavourably with those which have been recently revised. There is no reason to think that in the future the other provisions will not themselves be revised. I beg to move.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation of the Amendment. I wonder whether there is to be included in the Bill any definition of places of entertainment which are covered by Clause 19. We now have a reference to pleasure fairs and roller skating rinks and there might be other such establishments which ought to be covered but are not. Would it not be helpful to have some general definition ?
§ Baroness BIRK
I understand that this point comes under one of the clauses, 30 which I cannot put my hands on at the moment, dealing with general powers. But this Amendment was put forward because otherwise these places would have been specifically excluded since they came under the Public Health Act 1961, and that related particularly to pleasure fairs and roller skating rinks. Otherwise I think it applies to dance halls and all the other places which one would consider forthe holding of any entertainment, exhibition or sporting event ",which are defined in the earlier part of the clause. This covers most of the places one could think of, but I will write to the noble Baroness setting out the position more clearly.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 19, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 20 to 22 agreed to.
§ Clause 23 [Funds of local authorities. etc.]
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendments Nos. 28 and 29:
§ Page 28, line 36, after first (" funds ") insert (" , Housing Revenue Accounts ").
§ Page 30, line 12, at end insert—
§ (" 18. Money received from the disposal of any property the income from which or the expenditure on which is included in a local authority's Housing Revenue Account shall not without the consent of the Secretary of State be paid into a fund established by the authority under paragraph 16 of this Schedule.").
§ The noble Baroness said: The second Amendment (which is the substantive one) prevents capital money received from the disposal of properties within a local authority's Housing Revenue Account from being paid into a capital fund established under Clause 23 without the consent of the Secretary of State. The first Amendment is consequential. These are drafting Amendments designed to correct an omission in Clause 23.
§ Clause 23 enables local authorities to set up such funds as they consider appropriate. This is achieved by replacing paragraphs 16 to 18 of Schedule 13 to the Local Government Act 1972 with new paragraphs 16 and 17. But as they 31 stand the two new paragraphs do not take account of certain Amendments which have been made to the existing paragraphs. The Amendments ensure that capital money received from the disposal of properties within the Housing Revenue Account is not paid into a capital fund without the consent of the Secretary of State, which in practice is rarely given. The reason for this is to ensure that the benefit of such receipts should accrue to the Housing Revenue Account. If they were paid into the capital fund they could be used for other purposes and thus lost to the Housing Revenue Account. For that reason I beg to move the Amendments.
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 23, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 24 [Repayment of unclaimed compensation etc paid into court]:
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 30:
Page 31, line 23, at end insert—
(" (4) For the purposes of the preceding subsection any land held by a parish or community council shall be treated as held by the district council whose area includes the area of the parish or community council.").
§ The noble Baroness said: the purpose of the Amendment is to provide that where prior to 1st April 1974 an authority which has now ceased to exist paid money into court on behalf of a parish council or community council, the district council whose area includes the parish or community will be able to apply to the court notwithstanding that the land itself is now held by the parish. The need for this Amendment first became clear at report stage in another place on consideration of an Amendment"tabled on behalf of the National Association of Local Councils. Under Section 125 of the Local Government Act 1972 district councils are able to make compulsory purchase orders on behalf of local councils, who have no powers of compulsory purchase themselves. The National Association of Local Council's Amendment, which was withdrawn, would have permitted parish councils to apply direct for the repayment of compensation which had been paid into court on their 32 behalf. It was opposed on the grounds that as local councils had no powers of compulsory purchase it would be inappropriate for them to be able to apply direct to the court and the district council should act on their behalf.
§ But it transpired that as subsection (3) is drawn at present the district council would be unable to make an application to the court in respect of money paid by its predecessor prior to local government reorganisation, because it would no longer hold the land which would have been transferred on acquisition to the local council, which is not a local authority for the purposes of this clause. An undertaking was therefore given that a Government Amendment would be tabled to deal with the point, and the present Amendment does so by making it clear that in such circumstances the district council can apply to the court even though the land is now held by the parish council—or community council in Wales. The problem does not arise in respect of acquisitions of land made after 1st April 1974, because in such cases there is no requirement that the land should still be held by a local authority as defined. I beg to move.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I understand that this Amendment has been included in order to meet a request from the association representing parish councils. I wish to express our gratitude that it has appeared and to say that we accept it.
§ On Question. Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 25 agreed to.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 31:
After Clause 25 insert the following new clause:
§ Indemnities for officers of local authorities appointed as receivers or administrators.1959 c. 72.
§ . If an officer of a local authority is appointed as a receiver for a patient in pursuance of section 105 of the Mental Health Act 1959 or, on the nomination of the authority, as the administrator of the estate of a deceased person, the authority may pay to the officer any sum which he becomes liable to pay in consequence of the appointment and may pay the premiums in 33 respect of any policy of insurance for indemnifying the officer from the consequences of any act or omission connected with the appointment which occurs while he holds the appointment.
§ The noble Baroness said: This Amendment will authorities local authorities to reimburse their officers who act as receivers for mental patients or administrators of estates for any loss incurred by them in either of those capacities. A receiver may be appointed under Section 105(1) of the Mental Health Act 1959 where, after considering medical evidence, the Court of Protection is satisfied that a person is incapable, by reason of mental disorder, of managing and administering his affairs (Section 101). Although the Act does not make any express provision on the point, local authority officers are often appointed as receivers of the estates of persons living in accommodation provided by a welfare authority where there is no relative of the patient available to act. Grants of administration of a deceased person's estate may be made under the Non-Contentious Probate Rules 1954 to certain persons in cases where the person to whom a grant would otherwise be made is an infant.
§ Local authorities are required or empowered by a number of statutory provisons to receive into their care children in certain circumstances, and where the child in question would have been entitled to a grant but for infancy, a grant of administration is sometimes made to an officer nominated by the local authority for that purpose. Receivers and administrators are, broadly speaking, exempt from personal liability where they have acted reasonably and in good faith. This is under the Mental Health Act 1959, Section 141, and the Trustee Act 1925, Section 61. The need for further protection arises where local authority officers have acted negligently to some degree and are not protected by the provisions of the Mental Health Act or the Trustee Act. This is particularly important in the case of local authority officers acting as receivers, because receivers are personally accountable to the Court of Protection, by whom they are appointed, for their acts and defaults. The power of local authorities to make reimbursements under this Amendment is entirely discretionary. I beg to move.34
§ Baroness YOUNG
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining this Amendment to us. It refers, of course, quite specifically, to the Mental Health Act 1959. I should like to ask whether officers could be appointed in other circumstances, where they in fact become receivers or administrators on the death of someone in their care. The noble Baroness talked of children in the care of a local authority, and presumably this might also apply to old people where they have no family or relatives for this purpose. I wondered whether this was an all-inclusive clause, or whether there is other legislation which covers these other two groups of people and we are simply talking about people who are in the care of a local authority under the Mental Health Act.
§ Baroness BIRK
As I understand it, under the Mental Health Act it applies not only to children but to any person who is incapable by reason of mental disorder. But the particular emphasis is on infants because in these cases, and where the child in question would be entitled to a grant but for infancy, a grant of administration is sometimes made to an officer nominated by the local authority for that purpose. As I understand it, it would be mainly in the cases of infants because they are in a special category; but as I also understand it, it could apply to anyone in that position where there has been a receiver or administrator appointed. If by any chance I am wrong on that—and I do not think I am—I will let the noble Baroness know.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 26 agreed to.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 31A:
After Clause 26 insert the following clause:
§ "Restoration of supply of water, gas or electricity.
§ . (1) If any premises in the area of a district council, a London borough council or the Common Council are occupied as a dwelling and the supply of water, gas or electricity to the premises is cut off in consequence of the failure of the owner or former owner of the premises to pay a sum payable by him in connection with the supply, the council may, at the request in writing of the occupier of the premises, make such arrangements as it thinks fit with the undertakers who provided the supply for it to be restored to the premises.35
§ (2) Where under arrangements made in pursuance of the preceding subsection in respect of any premises a council makes a payment in respect of a sum which, at the time when the relevant supply to the premises was cut off as mentioned in that subsection, a person was liable to pay in connection with the supply to the undertakers who provided it, the council shall be entitled to demand and recover from that person a sum equal to the payment; and where under such arrangements a council makes a payment in respect of the restoration of a supply to any premises or a payment for a supply to any premises, the council shall be entitled to demand and recover from the owner of the premises a sum equal to the payment reduced by any amount received by the council in pursuance of subsection (4) of this section in respect of the payment.
§ (3) A council by which a sum is recoverable from a person in pursuance of the preceding subsection shall also be entitled to recover from him interest on the sum, from the date of service of the demand for the sum, at the rate fixed by section 171(2) of the Local Government Act 1972; and such a demand must—
- (a) be served on the recipient in writing; and
- (b) give particulars of the payment to which the sum demanded relates; and
- (c) in the case of a demand for a sum on which interest is payable by virtue of this subsection, state the rate of the interest and that interest is payable from the date aforesaid.
§ (4) Where by virtue of the preceding provisions of this section a council is entitled to recover from the owner of any premises a sum on account of a payment in respect of the restoration of a supply to the premises or a payment for a supply to the premises or interest on such a sum and—
- (a) the owner of the premises is, under the terms on which a person occupies the premises, required to pay for a supply of the kind to which that sum relates; and
- (b) the council has served a notice on that person requiring him to pay to the council, instead of to the owner of the premises, the rent for the premises which apart from this subsection is or becomes payable by him to the owner of the premises,
§ (5) In this section ' the owner ', in relation to any premises, means a person who apart from the preceding subsection is entitled on his own behalf or as a trustee or agent for another person to rent for the premises from the occupier of the premises and former owner ', in relation to any premises, means a person who was so entitled to rent for the premises from the occupier or former occupier of the premises."
§ The noble Baroness said: This new clause has been discussed before. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, raised the 36 matter on the first day of the Committee stage, when I said that we hoped to bring such a new clause as this forward at Report stage. We have in fact found it possible to bring it forward at Committee stage. It allows a local authority to help an occupier whose gas, water or electricity supply has been cut off because his landlord, who is responsible for paying the bill, has not done so. It allows the authority to pay the statutory undertakers to reconnect the supply and to recover their expenses from the landlord. Noble Lords will be familiar with this subject because it has arisen several times recently in your Lordships' House. Indeed, as I have just pointed out, the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, introduced his own new clause to this effect on the first day of this Committee stage and then withdrew it when I said that the Government's new clause was on the way.
§ A typical case where a local authority might use this power is this. A tenant pays a rent which is inclusive of electricity. He is up to date with his rent payments, but the landlord, for whatever reason, has not paid the bill, and after the usual warnings the Electricity Board have cut off the supply. The tenant then suffers considerable hardship through no fault of his own. In theory, of course, he can sue his landlord for breach of contract, but that would take time and, meanwhile, would not help him if he is in the dark and without heating.
§ Under this new clause he has an immediate remedy. He can ask his local authority for help, and they can use this power to pay the Gas Board or the Electricity Board to reconnect the supply. Under subsection (1) they can come to whatever agreement they think fit for the supply to be reconnected, and under subsections (2) to (4) they can recover the full amount they have spent, plus interest, from the owner. The authority will have the choice either of demanding payment direct from the landlord or, under subsection (4), of requiring the tenant to divert his rent to them until the debt is paid. This second method might be useful where the landlord is hard to trace. In such a case it would be more convenient for the authority to have the rent diverted and get money from the landlord that way, rather than spend time and effort tracking him down.37
§ I do not think your Lordships will want me to set out the need for this clause at any great length. I should think we are all agreed upon it since there is evidence of tenants suffering in these circumstances, with no immediate remedy. Local authorities badly need the power to help in these circumstances, and the Government agree that they should have it. The local authority associations have seen the clause and are content with it; and
§ understand that the statutory undertakers concerned have no objections. For these reasons, I commend this new clause to your Lordships, and I beg to move.
§ Lord AIREDALE moved, as an Amendment to Amendment No. 31A, Amendment No. 31B:
§ In line 4, after (" off ") insert (" or is immediately about to be cut off ").
§ The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 31B and 31C are another pair of Amendments which undoubtedly stand or fall together and which perhaps we can therefore discuss together. I was delighted when the noble Baroness was able to table this new clause about the restoration of water, electricity and gas in the circumstances which she has outlined. The need for a clause of this kind was made very apparent to me in the course of the proceedings on the County of South Glamorgan Bill, when we were told of heart-rending cases which have occurred but which I need not rend your Lordships' hearts by reciting now.
§ However, it seems that this new clause, admirable though it is, falls short of perfection in one respect, and that is because it operates only after the supply has been cut off. I suppose, therefore, the situation could arise where it is common ground between the local authority and the Gas Board that Mrs. So-and-So's gas bill is going to be paid by the local authority because she as tenant has paid for it in her rent and that it is the landlord who is in default, but where, because the clause operates only after the supply has been cut off, what happens is that the gas-fitter has to go to the premises and disconnect the supply, and then has to go to a telephone kiosk and (assuming, of course, that he has the right number of pennies and can get through) contact the treasurer's department of the local authority and 38 say that the supply has been disconnected. On that, the treasurer's department then says, " Very well; we are sending a man round with the money for the gas bill, so go back and reconnect the premises ". The fitter then goes back and undoes the work which he has just done. All this seems a terrible waste of manpower and of money.
§ We have just heard from the noble Baroness how difficult it sometimes is to recover this money from these landlords who do not pay their hills. It is a much bigger bill now than it would have been if the fitter had not had to disconnect and reconnect the supply. I should have thought it was worth extending the clause a little by saying that where the supply is " immediately about to be cut off" the bill can be paid by the local authority. This bill will be a smaller bill which they may have to meet, because they may not be able to recover the money from the landlord, than it would have been if the disconnection and reconnection had had to take place. That is the purpose of this Amendment. I beg to move.
§ Viscount AMORY
I wanted to comment on the new clause. I am not sure whether it will he in order to do it now. Are we concentrating our discussion on the Amendments and then coming back to the new clause?
The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES
I think the normal procedure would be to return to the new clause after the two Amendments have been disposed of.
§ Baroness BIRK
This really is a very difficult one because what the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, wants to do is to allow the local authority to step in and pay the landlord's bill, not as in the new clause only when the supply has been cut off but also when the occupier has written to the authority telling him that his supply is about to be or immediately about to be cut off.
I can see the attractions of the proposal and I have a great deal of sympathy with it for all the reasons which the noble Lord has cited and even other reasons. On the face of it, it is true that it provides a short cut to the same end and that there would be no need to wait for the disconnection to take place. The undertakers would be 39 saved the cost of disconnection and reconnection and the occupier would be spared the discomfort of even a short period without gas or electricity or whatever. We have, in fact, considered such a provision carefully ourselves and we should have liked to incorporate it in our original clause; but after a great deal of thinking and consultation we had to come to the conclusion that in practice a provision like this would be either unworkable or only workable at the expense of quite unacceptable extra demands on the administrative machinery both of the local authorities and of the statutory undertakers.
The typical sequence of events under the Government clause would be this. The electricity board send the landlord the bill. He does not pay it, and after four weeks or so they send him a final demand. This says that the supply will be cut off if he does not pay within seven days. He still does not pay, and after some time, which can vary greatly, they disconnect the supply. The occupier knows nothing about all this until his supply is cut off. The landlord is responsible for payment; so he gets the hills. The tenant need not necessarily know what the hills amount to, or whether his landlord has paid them or intends to pay them. So, in practice, the occupier will be in no position to tell the authority that he is about to be cut off. And we cannot expect either the statutory undertakers or the local authority to be in such close and continuous consultation that they will be aware of the position. The statutory undertakers may not, indeed, know that their customer has a tenant.
Under the Amendment, the danger is that tenants will write to the local authority saying they are about to be cut off when probably they are not. The landlord may merely be late in paying. But the authority would be bound to pursue the matter further, get in touch with the statutory undertaker, and start the whole process moving perhaps unnecessarily. The last thing we want to do in this Bill is to impose unnecessary or extra work on local authorities. Under the Government clause, there is a strong incentive for the landlord to pay the bill, because otherwise he is faced with the cost of reconnection, which is not negligible, and the authority's 40 interest. It is cheaper for him to pay the bill on time. But under the Amendment he can rely on the local authority to prevent disconnection—however much of their staff time this takes up—and he only gets the same bills that he should have paid in the first place, anyway.
While, then, I understand and sympathise with the noble Lord's intentions in putting forward this Amendment, I cannot see any way in which it could be practicable and workable, and therefore acceptable. I assure the noble Lord that it was not that this possibility was overlooked. We tried to find a way, but it is difficult to make words like " immediately " or " about to " or " likely to be " or whatever phrase it may be, precise enough to be workable in practice. For this reason I reluctantly have to ask the Committee to resist this Amendment and I hope the noble Lord will withdraw it.
§ Lord CROOK
I intervene for a moment in order to thank my noble friend for the explanation she has just given and to say how much I sympathise with the difficulty the Government have. At the same time, I have a tremendous feeling of support for the principle behind Lord Airedale's Amendment because of my experience as Chairman of the London Electricity Consultative Council. I wonder whether my noble friend would be good enough to tell us that she can try once again to look to see if there is some way—other than through Lord Airedale's Amendment, which I do not think is workable—in which something could be done.
Perhaps if I were to quote merely one heart-rending case which I dealt with in my official capacity, it might help. After all the usual notices and procedures had gone on with the London Electricity Board—and they waited longer than the proper time—they were forced, with the huge bill involved, to cut off supplies to a given premises. Within hours, I was hearing from the social security people that 12 families had been left without light, without heat and without cooking facilities. This amazed me. It needed only an hour or two with the London Electricity Board who were easily able to help by restoring the power on their own responsibility.
The truth was that this house was owned by a man who let it off in 12 flats. He 41 put in his own 12 meters. This is still possible under the law; it goes on a great deal and in my view it goes on too much. The people had all paid for their electricity in advance with their shillings in the slot and this had gone into the man's pocket while he had not paid a penny. It took the whole machinery of the Electricity Board and the Social Security Department, with consideration, perhaps, of legal proceedings—to say nothing of the time of my own Consultative Council Committee—to try to deal with this.
For the reasons that my noble friend has given, I do not pretend that the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, is workable. I do not think my noble friend has an easy job, but I should not like to let this matter go by without mentioning my experience over the years. If my noble friend can do something, will she please try to do so ?
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
On a point of clarification, I have been following this with great interest, but I am still not clear about whether this applies only to landlords in residence in the same place as the tenants. Otherwise I cannot understand why non-payment of a bill which goes to him could be operated against the tenants in other premises.
§ Baroness WOOTTON of ABINGER
I should like to reinforce the plea that my noble friend has made. Everyone would agree that it is outrageous that anyone should be cut off from supplies of gas or electricity because the landlord has not paid the bill and not because the tenant himself, who suffers, has not paid. I realise the difficulties in the drafting of the Amendment and the difficulties in defining words like " immediately " or " about to be ". But I cannot think it is beyond the wit of my noble friend and her advisers to find a formula which would prevent this outrageous injustice from occurring.
§ Lord CROOK
May I, with the permission of the Committee, try to help my noble friend? The person in the premises who signed the agreement with the electricity undertaking was the person who owned the house. Unknown to the electricity Board—and they could never know—he had 12 flats with separate meters. He used to pay for the electricity and then, on one occassion, he did not pay the electricity undertaking.
§ Baroness YOUNG
Before the noble Baroness replies, I have a great deal of sympathy with the Amendment. Could the noble Baroness make clear what the costs are that would fall on the landlord ? She has explained clearly that under her Amendment the penalty against the landlord—in this case, quite rightly—is that he would have to pay the charge for reconnection of the supply and the interest on the Bill as it accumulated. The noble Baroness said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, that there would be no extra cost to the landlord if the Bill were paid immediately. The only cost the landlord would not have to pay would be the cost of reconnection, since the supply would not have been disconnected. Under Lord Airedale's Amendment if the landlord failed to pay the Bill, the interest charges would presumably accumulate just as much as they would under the Government's Amendment. I do not think that the arithmetic of it is as I thought she explained it. The case which I have in mind is that of old people who can so easily in the winter time get hypothermia if heating supplies are cut off for any length of time. It is for that reason that we all have a great deal of sympathy with this matter. I appreciate how difficult it is to draft legislation; but we are in any case talking only about permissive powers in these cases. It would presumably be up to the individual local authority to make such arrangements as it felt it could with the local gas or electricity industries, the Supplementary Benefits Commission or anybody else it considered appropriate. Looking at it from that point of view, I wonder whether that could be a way that the Government could find an Amendment which would meet the wishes of all sides of the Committee.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK
I should like to thank my noble friends and the noble Baroness opposite for their comments. My noble friend Lord Crook answered the point raised by my noble friend Lady Phillips. This is one of the problems, the landlord need not necessarily live in the house. This raises the difficulty in tracing him. This is why—and I think noble Lords agree that this is an important part of the new clause—the local authority can divert the rent. Another advantage 43 of this is it saves extra charges on the rates.
I feel complete sympathy with what has been said and with everything my noble friend Lady Wootton said. I should like to consider this Amendment and see whether it is possible to do anything. I was attracted by the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who seemed to open a door—which no doubt will be firmly slammed shut by Parliamentary counsel and I shall try to open it again—when she suggested that one could at least leave it to local authorities themselves to see whether they could make an arrangement or whether they were willing to try to see how this worked out. In any case, here it could be discretionary for them to take these steps. I certainly will take this back because just as much as anybody who has spoken on it I should like to find a way round this so that there is not the inevitable cut off. I think noble Lords appreciate the problem that even with the best of intentions—I am not thinking of people playing hoaxes or being malicious—there could be a number of false alarms. I will do the best I can, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, will withdraw his Amendment.
§ Lord AIREDALE
I am very grateful to hear the noble Baroness say that she will consider this matter again. That enables me to be short in the few remarks I have to make before I seek leave to withdraw my Amendment. The last point which the noble Baroness mentioned in her first speech on this Amendment was regarding difficulty with the word that is used, whether " immediately " or whatever it is. This is a difficulty at which we need not strain unduly. What would happen would be that if the local authority auditor thought that the case was not one of immediacy, and thought that money had been paid wrongly, he would say so. If there was a dispute on the matter it would go to the court. The court is capable of deciding what " immediately " means in a given set of circumstances. I should think we can overcome that difficulty.
Something which gave me disquiet in the observations of the noble Baroness was in describing the mechanics of the system. She said that in these cases 44 first the bill goes to the landlord, then the further demand and the final demand goes to him. If the money is not paid, the supply is cut off without apparently the tenant— the occupier—being approached at all by the statutory undertaker. I find this very hard to believe. The tenant may be a well-to-do person and may be able to settle the bill himself easily and take proceedings, if necessary, or simply deduct the money from future rent payable to the landlord.
§ Baroness BIRK
I think the point there is that very often they may not know who the tenant is. The bill goes to the landlord. They will not know whether there is anybody in occupation, whether it is a tenant, a member of the family of the landlord, or whoever it is. This is the problem. The correspondence is between the statutory undertaker and the landlord.
§ Lord AIREDALE
But statutory undertakers are not completely dunderheaded. There is the streets directory, the telephone book and all sorts of ways of finding out who is the occupier of a house. One could even knock on the door of the house and the occupier may be in. To contemplate cutting off somebody's supply—somebody who may be perfectly capable and willing to pay the bill at once, settle the matter and not be cut off—seems extraordinary. I hope what the noble Baroness said on this point is not true. If it is true, it ought to be looked at and the statutory undertakers ought to be instructed to act otherwise.
The noble Baroness emphasised very much the point of not putting extra work upon the local authorities. I agree about that; but what about extra work for the statutory undertakers? In the wintertime, when these problems are at their most acute, fitters are off sick and probably they are difficult to get, anyway. The statutory undertakers have unnumerable urgent tasks to deal with. The last thing they want is unnecessary work, going to cut off somebody's supply, which will have to be reconnected again at the earliest possible moment afterwards. What I am seeking to do also is to save the ratepayers' money. My feeling is that these landlords, who do not pay the electricity bills in the first place, or even when the final demand comes, are not the type of people from whom the local authority are 45 going to be able to obtain the money in any event. Therefore, if the cost of disconnecting and reconnecting the supply can be avoided, the ratepayer, who is going ultimately to have to pay in so many of these cases, will have a smaller bill to pay. With those impassioned remarks—
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
Before the noble Lord seeks to withdraw his Amendment, I wonder whether I might perhaps make a helpful suggestion. The problem seems to concern the tracing of the owner when he does not live on the premises. Would there be some way of minimising the work caused to the local authority if, where a landlord's address is different from that where the supply has been used, this problem could be solved by examining valuation sheets? I think that is a constructive suggestion.
§ Baroness BIRK
In some cases the landlord cannot be traced, and in other cases the landlord's address is known but he does not respond or pay his bill, or he waits until the final demand, as many people do. As I pointed out earlier, the statutory undertakers are concerned only with those who contract to buy the gas or the electricity: that would be the landlord. We must also remember that they are not welfare bodies. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, was a little hard, because I thought I had shown that I was very much on his side and would do the best I could—which I intend to do in spite of his rather severe strictures.
§ Lord AIREDALE
I apologise for seeming to be hard; I did not mean to be at all. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, for what he said and for having reminded me of one final point before I seek to withdraw the Amendment. If and when this clause reaches the Statute Book, I think it is clear that machinery will quickly develop by which, in practice, the Gas Board will be in close touch with the local authority with a list of the premises to be shortly cut off if somebody does not pay the bill. Therefore, the statutory undertaker and the local authority between them will be able to sort out in most cases, first of all who is the occupier and whether it is the tenant or the landlord who is at fault in any particular case. There will be a short list of appropriate cases where the local 46 authority will be able to say, " You won't have to disconnect those, because we are satisfied that it is the defaulting landlord who is responsible in those cases and we shall be responsible for the bill." That is the kind of way in which matters will develop in practice. Having said all that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment to the Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Wootton of Abinger)
We now return to Amendment No. 31A, which has been moved.
§ Viscount AMORY
I was very pleased indeed that the noble Baroness was so conciliatory over the last Amendment. I can only say that if my water supply was cut off because my landlord had not paid the bill, I should be perfectly furious. I was thinking hard during the discussion, and to my great relief I recalled that my water supply is owned by my landlord (my nephew) and therefore he has no bill to pay for it. Further, I do not believe he could cut it off because there is nowhere else that the water could go except flow through my desirable property. One hardly ever listens in detail to a Bill going through your Lordships' House without it opening up some fresh terrors of which one was formerly unconscious.
Following that, may I make one comment on the new clause. I have no objection whatever to the powers taken here, which seem to me reasonable and useful; but I am a little perplexed about the fact, as I understand it, that this clause gives specific powers to the council to recover the cost of any expenditure they have been put to through reconnecting the water supply. That seems to me to be analogous to the powers which my noble friend Lady Young and I suggested in connection with Clause 3. We suggested a somewhat similar power should be given to a local authority which had incurred expenditure because of liquid cement causing serious damage to sewers or pipes. To our deep disappointment—and I think I should be right in saying to my noble friend's chagrin—we were told it was inappropriate for such a specific power to be given in a modern Bill; and we were turned down on that.
47 My grandmother used an old saying: " What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander ", or something equivalent. It seems to me that my grandmother's saying would be entirely appropriate here. If this specific power is given to a council in this new clause, why did the noble Baroness object so strongly to its being given when we were discussing Clause 3? I wonder whether she could comment on that? I have no intention of being beastly about this clause, because it seems a good and useful one and the powers seem entirely appropriate, but will she remember that " what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander "?
§ Baroness BIRK
When the noble Viscount got to his feet and gave us his anecdote, I thought he was going to come up with a marvellous way out of this problem, apart from his delightful story of his own water supply and desirable property.
§ Viscount AMORY
If the noble Baroness will forgive me, it was all meant to be extremely helpful. I was keeping an eye open and hoping that a message would be received while I was slightly " waffling ".
§ Baroness BIRK
It was extremely helpful, but I am not going to be drawn into discussing Clause 3 at this moment; we dispensed with that clause last time. I have written to the noble Viscount about this but, due to the super-efficiency of the Post Office, my letter has not yet reached him—we did not want to worry him over the week-end! I mentioned water when I wrote to him, but if I think there is anything in this clause that should also write to him about, I will do so.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I think that is a very generous offer on the part of the noble Baroness, which we are happy to accept. I take her point that we cannot go back to Clause 3 now. Nevertheless, I think that my noble friend Lord Amory has raised a very serious point, on a matter of principle which some of us have been concerned about as this Bill has proceeded through the Committee stage. One needs to be quite certain that what is being applied 48 in one clause is being applied quite consistently throughout the Bill.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 32:
§ After Clause 26 insert the following new clause:
§ . In subsection (7) of section 126 of the Housing Act 1974 after the words " Greater London Council " there shall be inserted the words " the Lake District Special Planning Board and the Peak Park Planning Board ".
§ The noble Baroness said: This Amendment really arises out of the Report of my noble friend Lord Sandford on National Parks. I believe it to be true that the Government have accepted the value of management agreements within National Parks and have promised that at some future date there will be legislation upon this matter. This will inevitably take a great deal of time, and it seemed to me that this Bill, which is after all a miscellaneous provisions Bill, provides the opportunity to consider the situation as it is now, because there has been an increasing feeling among the National Park authorities that additional statutory powers would be desirable to get them to take a much more positive lead in land management in National Parks, and that the existing codes which are contained in the whole development control system under the Town and Country Planning Act and the Access provisions in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 have their limitations.
§ The fact is that National Park authorities now have power to enter into agreements with landowners, with a view to fulfilling the general statutory aims of preserving and enhancing the National Parks and promoting their enjoyment, and Section 52 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 enables negative covenants in such agreements, as they seek to regulate or control the use of land, to bind successors in title. However, successful enforcement lies in the discretion of the court and the procedure is involved and complicated. Until recently there has been no means by which an authority could enter into an agreement which would impose a continuing obligation on a 49 landowner and successors in title in a positive way. Unless the National Park authority can be sure that the agreement will bind the person to whom the land passes and the application can be enforced, there is little incentive to seek such an agreement.
§ Under Section 126 of the Housing Act 1974, there is some partial solution to this problem for it provides that when a local authority and a person with a legal interest in land enter into an agreement to secure the carrying out of works on that land or to facilitate its development, or the development of other land belonging to that person, then the agreement will hind the successors in title to that land. The problem is that this section of the Housing Act is not available for use by the Lake District Special Planning Board or the Peak Park Planning Board, and it is simply to extend that provision of Section 126 of the Housing Act 1974 that I have put clown this Amendment. I hope that this is a matter which the Government will consider sympathetically. I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
I certainly have no objection in principle to these two planning hoards named by the noble Baroness being given the powers of Section 126 of the Housing Act 1974. The powers are available to other local planning authorities, and it seems right that they should also be available to the two planning boards created by orders under Section 1 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, as amended by the Local Government Act 1972.
However, I cannot accept the Amendment as it stands, because it would be wrong to refer to the two boards by name since that would exclude any other joint planning boards which might be created under Section 1 of the 1971 Act. Therefore we propose to draft a Government Amendment for insertion at Report stage, which will give effect to this Amendment and broaden it. I hope that in those circumstances the noble Baroness will withdraw the Amendment. I nearly interrupted her, but as she was in full flow I did not like to do so and wanted to hear the rest of what she had to say. But, as I said, I hope she will now withdraw the Amendment.
§ Baroness YOUNG
With that assurance, I am very happy to ask leave to 50 Withdraw the Amendment and I8 thank the noble Baroness for what she has said.
§ Amendments, by leave, withdraw.
§ Clause 27 [Power of local authorities to deal with dangerous trees]:
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Lord AIREDALE moved Amendment No. 33:
Leave out Clause 27 and insert the following new clause:
§ "Power of local authority to deal with dangerous trees
§ 27.—(l) Where a district council, a London borough council or the Common Council considers that a tree on any land is in such a condition that there is imminent danger of its causing injury to persons or damage to property the council may take such steps on the land, whether by felling the tree or otherwise, as it thinks are appropriate for the purpose of removing the danger and may recover the expenses reasonably incurred in doing so from any person who was an owner of the land when the council took those steps:
§ Provided that the council shall first give an owner of the land such opportunity as it may think practicable himself to take the appropriate steps.
§ (2) Where such a council considers that a tree on any land is in such a condition that it is likely to cause injury to persons or damage to property—
- (a) if the council having made reasonable enquiries knows the name and address of no person appearing to the council to be an owner of the land, the council may take such steps on the land as are mentioned in subsection (1) above and may recover the expenses reasonably incurred in doing so from any person who was an owner of the land when the council took those steps;
- (b) if the council knows the name and address of a person appearing to the council to be an owner of the land, the council may serve on such a person a notice requiring him to take on the land, within a reasonable period specified in the notice (which must not expire before the expiration of 21 days beginning with the date of service of the notice), such steps for making the tree safe as are so specified.
§ (3) A person on whom a notice is served by a council in pursuance of subsection (2) of this section may, within 21 days beginning with the date of service of the notice, appeal to the county court against the notice on one or more of the following grounds, namely—
- (a) that he is not an owner of the land on which the tree is situated;
- (b) that the tree is not in such condition as is mentioned in paragraph (b) of that subsection;
- (c) that less expensive steps than those specified in the notice would suffice for the purpose of removing the danger;
- (d) that it would have been fairer to serve the notice on another person who is an owner of the land aforesaid.
§ (4) Subsections (2) to (6) of section 20 of this Act shall apply to an appeal in pursuance of the preceding subsection as they apply to an appeal in pursuance of subsection (1) of that section as if for the references in subsections (2) and (3) of that section to paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of that section there were substituted references to paragraph (d) of the preceding subsection, for the references in subsections (3) and (5) of that section to the relevant place there were substituted references to the land on which the tree is situated and for the reference in subsection (4) of that section to section 19 of this Act and the reference in subsection (6) of that section to section 19(1)(a) of this Act there were substituted a reference to subsection (3) of this section.
§ (5) If a person on whom a notice is served by a council in pursuance of subsection (3) of this section fails to comply with the notice, the council may take the steps specified in the notice and recover from that person the expenses reasonably incurred in doing so."
§ The noble Lord said: We are now dealing with the power of local authorities to deal with dangerous trees, a subject which I think has aroused a good deal of interest. This Amendment is an attempt to redraft the clause with certain differences, and the most helpful way in which I can move it is by drawing attention first to the major points of difference between the clause in the Bill and the proposed new clause, and then to approximately three minor, more or less drafting points.
§ The proposed new clause is shorter than the clause in the Bill, and although brevity is not everything it undoubtedly counts for something. Secondly, the new clause as drafted gets rid of the conception in the clause in the Bill of the dangerous tree having to be only a tree on a certain piece of land defined in the clause; and, further-more, a tree about which the information must go to the local authority only from a certain class of person. The new clause gets rid of both those conceptions, and for this reason.
We are dealing with something which is very serious indeed and, quoting from the clause in the Bill, with a tree that,
is in such a condition that there is imminent danger of its causing damage to persons or property ".
§ If we are dealing with something as serious and dangerous as that, it seems to me to make nonsense to go on to say that the clause must apply only if it is a tree on a certain class of piece of land, and even more ridiculous if it applies only if a certain class of person—that is to say, 52 an owner or occupier—is the one who informs the council about the danger. The proposed new clause deals with a tree on any land, and it does not care who informs the local authority about it.
§ If the milkman informs the local authority that a tree has been struck by lightning and is in a desperately dangerous state, that is just as good as if an owner or occupier were to give the information. I ask your Lordships to imagine what would happen if some frightful disaster occurred and the local authority said, " Yes, we knew about that tree. We knew it was likely to fall and kill somebody. But we did not have power to act under this clause, because it was not the owner or occupier who told us about it; it was the milkman, and Parliament will not allow us to act under this clause if the milkman told us about the danger." If that got into the headlines, I should think people would ask whether Parliament was in its senses when it passed the clause in that form.
§ The third major distinction is that in the new clause I have put a proviso to subsection (1), which states that wherever practicable the local authority must give the owner an opportunity to deal with the danger himself. After all, he will have to pay for the work to be done, whoever does it, whether it is the local authority or himself. He may be an estate owner with equipment capable of doing the work, and it seems only right to give him the opportunity to do the work himself, so far as that is practicable.
§ Fourthly, I have left out the reference to the " occupier ", as it occurs in the clause in the Bill. I think I am right in saying that in almost every case the owner of a tree is the owner of the land, but the occupier may be only a weekly tenant and in some cases he will be put in a very embarrassing position if he is given orders by the local authority as to what he is to do to remove somebody else's tree. It seems to me much better to confine this, as a matter between the local authority and the owner. The fifth and last major distinction between the two clauses is that the new clause obviates the necessity for subsection (4) of the clause in the Bill.
There are three minor and more or less drafting points which are differences. The clause as drafted in the Bill states:
… whether by felling the tree or otherwise … making the tree safe ".
In the cold logic of Alice in Wonderland I suppose you can say that if you fell a tree you make it safe, but in the real world in which we live I venture to suggest that we talk about removing the danger and in this connection l should have thought that that was a better expression to use.
Secondly, whereas the clause in the Bill refers to
damage to persons or property
I think that in the legal world it is usual to refer to
injury to persons or damage to property".
§ The final small difference is that I thought that paragraph (c) of subsection (2) of the clause in the Bill made rather heavy weather of finding the name and address of the person we were seeking and that I could shorten it without doing any damage to the sense.
§ Those are the differences, both major and minor, and I venture to put forward this proposed new clause as an improvement on the clause in the Bill, for the reasons I have endeavoured to explain. I beg to move.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK
As the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has said, the general effect of his Amendment is to substitute for Clause 27 a new clause which gives similar but not identical powers to district councils. The noble Lord explained it in considerable detail, so I will comment on his new clause and explain how it differs from the Government's clause. The new clause follows the lines which were foreshadowed by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, at Second Reading. As he has now pointed out, it is true that it is simpler than our Clause 27, partly because its different approach avoids the need for a separate subsection to cover the position of the council as the owner of land threatened by dangerous trees on adjoining land.
It also differs from Clause 27 in the following main matters of substance. It would permit the council to take the initiative in action to make safe a dangerous tree on private property. In the Department's view it is wrong to encourage or permit authorities to interfere with trees on private property on any significant scale where the general public are not 54 invoked. The felling of trees threatening a highway is a different matter upon which authorities already possess specific powers under Section 134 of the Highways Act 1959, as extended by Section 10 of the Highways (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1961. Owners should normally be able to fell a tree without bringing in or being prompted by the authority, and neighbours should normally be able to reach agreement on the felling of a tree threatening adjoining land.
The scope of Clause 27 has been limited quite deliberately. So far as a dangerous tree on his own property is concerned, the owner will normally have a strong personal interest in making it safe. It may otherwise fall on his house or his children or, if it falls on anybody else, it leaves him liable for compensation. It would limit to owners the people on whom the council can serve notices, from whom they can recover expenses or whose name they must try to find. In the Department's view, there is a reasonable case for also enabling an occupier to request the council to take action to make a dangerous tree safe—this is necessary because it may not always be possible to contact the owner, certainly at short notice—and for enabling expenses to be recovered from the occupier who called in the council (for he raised the matter in the first place) or the occupier of the adjoining land where the dangerous tree is, because he may be easier for the council to contact than the owner, and if trees are the owner's responsibility under the lease he should then be able to claim back from the owner afterwards. It would somewhat reduce the lengths to which the council has to go in making inquiries to find out the owner's name before it can make safe a dangerous tree.
This clause deals with trees on private land. I repeat that we have deliberately avoided giving to local authorities the power to initiate action which would remove the owner-occupier's present liability under the Occupiers Liability Act, from which examples such as the milkman or the postman or the examples which the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, gave would benefit at present. I agree that they are two quite different approaches but perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, and other noble Lords will remember that whereas at Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, wanted this exten- 55 sion it was the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who made out a case for the Government's clause and said that in his view the noble Lord had gone too far. Obviously, there is quite a difference of opinion and the Government have come down in favour of this rather more limited liability, for the reasons I have just given. I agree that this is very much a matter of approach and opinion, but we take the view at this stage that this is as far as local authorities should be enjoined to go.
§ Lord AIREDALE
The distinction between the situation under the Highways Acts and this one, the Highways Acts dealing with places where the general public have access, is rather unreal because to a very large extent access to private property is enjoyed by people who are very little removed from being members of the public. All kinds of people—not only the milkman but the postman, the meter reader, the clergyman, the boy who delivers the evening paper and also tradesmen's vans—have access to private property and an interest in their access being as safe as it can be made. Therefore it distresses me very much that the Government are not prepared to go so far as to concede that the information upon which the local authority may act can come from anybody and not from a limited class of person. The case that I instanced where a disaster occurs and it is only because it is the wrong kind of informant that prevents the council from taking action, seems to me to he a situation which we ought to seek to avoid.
The noble Baroness said that the owner-occupier has an interest in keeping his trees safe because of his liability to compensate people who are injured, but let us suppose that it is summertime and the thunderstorm season, that the owner-occupier is away on holiday, that his tree is struck by lightning and that the next morning somebody who goes to the house sees that it is in a desperate state. If local authorities are to have any powers of this kind at all, they should have the power in that case to go in and take action to remove the danger. It is hopeless to talk about liability to compensation for a situation that the owner-occupier cannot know about because he is away on holiday. It may be that I shall get nothing at all, but I do not 56 think it is any use my dividing on this Amendment now. I think we shall have to return to this matter at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 27 agreed to.
§ Clause 28 agreed to.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 34:
After Clause 28, insert the following new clause:
§ "Access for removal, and storage before removal, ofrefuse etc. from buildings. 1936 c. 49.
§ .—(1) In subsection (1) of section 55 of the Public Health Act 1936 (which among other things requires certain local authorities to reject plans for the erection or extension of a house which are deposited with them in accordance with building regulations unless it is shown that satisfactory means of access from the house to a street for the removal of refuse and faecal matter are to be provided), for the word " house " in both places there shall be substituted the word " building ", for the words " faecal matter " there shall be substituted the words " satisfactory means of storing refuse for removal " and after the words " any means of access " there shall be inserted the words " or of storing refuse ".
§ (2) In subsection (2) of the said section 55 (which among other things provides that a person who obstructs the means of access by which refuse is removed from a house shall he liable to a fine not exceeding £5 and a further fine not exceeding £2 for each day on which the obstruction continues), for the word " house " there shall he substituted the word " building " and for the words from " five pounds " onwards there shall be substituted the word " £200 ".
§ (3) For the purposes of subsection (5) of section 62 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (which provides that building regulations may repeal or modify the enactments to which that subsection applies) the provisions of this section shall be included among those enactments."
§ The noble Baroness said: I am afraid this is also a rather technical clause. Subsection (1) of this new clause amends subsection (1) of Section 55 of the Public Health Act 1936, which requires a local authority to ensure that proper provision is made in plans deposited with them in accordance with building regulations for the removal of refuse. But the provisions of Section 55 are limited to the erection or extension of houses and cover only the means of access for removal of refuse. The subsection seeks to widen the section to apply to all new buildings and also to give the local authority control over the facilities to be provided for the storage of waste.57
§ Subsection (2) amends Section 55 (2) of the 1936 Act. This latter provision makes it an offence to close or obstruct an access used for the removal of refuse or faecal matter from a house. The Amendment again extends the provision from houses to other types of building, and raises the maximum penalties from £5 plus a daily penalty of £2 while the offence continues, to £200 (with no additional daily penalty). A maximum fine of this order is in keeping with current fines under the Public Health Act for other offences in this field. Subsection (3) will enable Section 55 of the Public Health Act 1936 as extended by this clause to be repealed or modified in due course, upon the making of building regulations covering all or some of the same ground.
§ The clause is one of a number suggested by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. It was accepted in principle during Committee stage in the other place and an undertaking was given to table a Government Amendment at a later stage. As I have explained, both the existing section and the proposed clause apply only to buildings to be erected in the future, not to those already existing. It is true that by Section 61 of and Schedule 5 to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 the storage of waste and access for its removal from buildings can now be brought within building regulations. However, the Act of 1974 gives many other new powers as well, and the making of building regulations over the whole enlarged field is a substantial task for which careful priorities must be established. It is likely to be some time before we are ready to make regulations relating to refuse storage and access for collection. The amendment of Section 55 will be useful until such regulations are made.
§ An example of the kind of purpose which the proposed amendment is designed to achieve is provided by the case of a new block of flats. The authority would be able to require the provision of a few large containers (which would normally be served by a chute) properly housed, rather than a multitude of standard-sized dustbins left out in the open. I beg to move.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I should like to thank the noble Baroness for explaining 58 this new clause, which we certainly support and which is very desirable from the point of view of the local authority. I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether she can say what part of the Long Title this falls under?
§ Baroness BIRK
I can assure the noble Baroness that it does fall under the Long Title and I imagine it is the part dealing with the extension of the Public Health Act.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 35:
After Clause 28, insert the following new clause:
§ Removal of obstructions from private sewers.
§ .—(1)If a private sewer is obstructed at a point within the area of a local authority (other than a county council and the Greater London Council), the authority may serve on each of the persons who is an owner or occupier of premises served by the sewer, or on each of such of those persons as the authority thinks fit, a notice requiring the recipients of notices in pursuance of this subsection in respect of the obstruction to remove it before a time specified in the notice; and that time shall not be earlier than forty-eight hours after the service of the notice or, if different notices in respect of the same obstruction are served in pursuance of this subsection at different times, shall not he earlier than forty-eight hours after the latest of those times.
§ (2) If an obstruction in respect of which notices have been served by an authority in pursuance of the proceding subsection is not removed within the period specified in the notices, the authority may remove it.
§ (3) Where an authority has reasonably incurred expenses in removing an obstruction in pursuance of the preceding subsection, the authority may serve on each of the persons on whom it served notice in pursuance of subsection (1) of this section in respect of the obstruction a further notice:—
- (a) requiring him to pay to the authority a sum equal to so much of the expenses as is specified in the further notice; and
- (b) specifying the other persons on whom notices in pursuance of this subsection have been or arc to be served in respect of the expenses and the amount specified or to be specified in each of those notices;
§ (4) A person on whom a notice is served in pursuance of the preceding subsection may, within the period of six weeks beginning with the date of service of the notice, appeal to the county court against the notice on the ground that it would be reasonable for the whole or part of the sum specified in the notice to be paid by some other person who is an owner or occupier of premises served by the sewer in question.
§ (5) On an appeal in pursuance of the preceding subsection against a notice the court shall either dismiss the appeal or order that the whole or part of the sum specified in the notice shall be paid to the authority which served the notice by—
- (a) a person, other than the appellant, who is an owner or occupier of premises served by the sewer in question; or
- (b) persons, other than the appellant, each of whom is such an owner or occupier, in such proportions as are specified in the order,
§ (6) A local authority by which a notice has been served on a person in pursuance of subsection (3) of this section shall be entitled to recover from him the sum specified in the notice after the expiration of the period mentioned in subsection (4) of this section or, if within that period an appeal against the notice is brought in pursuance of the said subsection (4), after the determination of the appeal.
§ (7) Expressions used in this section and in Part II of the Public Health Act 1936 have the same meanings in this section as in that Part; and sections 287 and 288 of that Act (which confer power to enter premises and penalise obstruction) shall have effect as if references to that Act included references to this section.
§ The noble Baroness said: This is another new clause which again is a rather long and technical one, dealing with sewers. This clause is an adjunct to Section 17 of the Public Health Act 1961, which gives local authorities the power to remedy, by notice served on the owner or occupier or, on his default, by direct action—blocked private sewers, wc's, soil pipes and drains. It seeks to provide, in respect of blocked private sewers only, for a system of operating the notice procedure which would provide a simpler method of apportioning costs among the affected parties. The clause was accepted in principle during the Committee stage in the other place and was one of a number sponsored by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.
§ What is not so much wrong, but deficient, in the existing provision of the Public Health Act 1961 is that the local 60 authority may only serve a notice on the person responsible for the premises where the blockage is found to have occurred, even though other people may derive benefit from the sewer and, of course, may have caused the blockage rather than the person on whom the notice is served. Frequently it is impossible to assign responsibility to any one person, so it makes sense in such cases to spread the responsibility among those parties who are affected by the blockage.
§ The clause follows the pattern set by its " parent " provision (s. 17/1961) in that if the local authority's notice to remedy the blockage is not complied with within forty-eight hours (a shorter time was suggested, but no evidence has been brought to show it is necessary) the authority may itself carry out the work. The main purpose of the clause is not just to secure a fair apportionment of responsibility for the sewer, but to apportion the costs of remedial work simply, and equitably, among the affected parties. Under the existing procedure an authority can only seek to recover its costs from the person on whose property the blockage occurred. This in fact makes it much more equitable. By serving notices on all the parties concerned the local authority not only ensures that the procedure is simplified but that every party is aware of the other parties involved and of the amount required from them. There is provision for a person to appeal against any costs he is required to pay. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 29 agreed to.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 36:
After Clause 29 insert the following new clause:
§ Control of parking on areas used for loading and unloading goods vehicles
§ .—(1) if it appears to a county council or the Greater London Council that any land in its area which is not part of a highway has been set apart by the occupier of the land for use as a place where vehicles may be driven and parked for the purpose of being loaded or unloaded in connection with a trade or business carried on on or in the vicinity of the land, the council may, by an order made with the consent of the owner and the occupier of the land—
- (a) designate the land as an area to which the following provisions of this section apply (hereafter in this section referred to as a " loading area "); and
- (b) specify the trade or business in question.
§ (2) A council which has made an order in pursuance of the preceding subsection—
- (a) may vary the order by a subsequent order made with the consent of the owner and the occupier of the land to which the subsequent order relates; and
- (b) may revoke the order by a subsequent order made with the consent of the owner and the occupier of the loading area in question; and
- (c) shall revoke the order by a subsequent order if requested in writing to do so by the owner and occupier of the loading area in question.
§ (3) An order in pursuance of subsection (1) or (2)(a) of this section may contain provisions prohibiting the parking in the loading area to which the order relates of vehicles of such kinds as are specified in the order, except authorised vehicles, at all times or at times so specified and may make different provision in pursuance of the preceding provisions of this subsection for different parts of the area; and in this subsection " authorised vehicle ", in relation to a loading area, means a goods vehicle as defined by section 196(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1972 which is in the area for the purpose of being loaded or unloaded in connection with the trade or business specified in the order designating the area.
§ (4) Section 84C(1) to (4) and (6) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 (which relate to the procedure for making orders under the provisions of that Act which are specified in subsection (1) of that section) shall have effect as if subsections (1) and (2) of this section were included among those provisions; and a person authorised in that behalf by a council by which an order has been made in pursuance of subsection (1) of this section may enter on the loading area to which the order relates for the purpose of placing any traffic signs which are required to be placed there by virtue of subsection (3)(e) of that section and for the purpose of maintaining or removing the signs.
§ (5) A person who, without reasonable excuse, causes a vehicle to be in any part of a loading area at a time when the parking of it there is prohibited by an order made in pursuance of subsection (1) of this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50.
§ (6) Section 85(2) and (3) and section 90 of the said Act of 1967 (which provide for the giving of information to identify drivers of vehicles who are alleged to have committed offences to which the said section 85 applies and for the admission of certain written evidence in proceedings for such offences) shall have effect as if an offence under the preceding subsection were an offence to which the said section 85 applies and, in relation to an offence under the preceding subsection, as if in the said section 85(2) the words from " and in relation " onwards were omitted and for sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) of paragraph (a) there were substituted the words " by a notice in writing given to him by a local authority (as defined by section 35(1) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976) in whose area the loading area in question is situated".
§ (7) The Secretary of State may, by regulations made by statutory instrument, provide that sections 20, 52 and 53 of the said Act of 1967 (which among other things provide for the removal, 62 storage and disposal of vehicles left on roads in contravention of a statutory prohibition) shall have effect, in relation to any vehicle which is or was in any part of a loading area while the parking of it in that part is or was prohibited by virtue of this, section, with such additions, omissions and amendments as are prescribed by the regulations; and any statutory instrument made by virtue of this subsection shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
§ (8) References in the preceding provisions of this section to an order in pursuance of subsection (1) of this section include, in the case of such an order which has been varied in pursuance of subsection (2)(a) of this section, references to the order as so varied.
§ The noble Baroness said : This is another new clause, a clause which would enable local authorities to designate land as a loading area, this being land on or near which trade or business is being carried on. Thereafter it would be an offence punishable by a maximum fine of £50 to park in the loading area except for the purpose of loading or unloading a goods vehicle in connection with the trade or business. The conditions which must be fulfilled before the land can be designated are, first, that the land must appear to a county council (or the GLC) to have been set apart by the occupier for the purpose of loading and unloading in connection with his trade,et cetera. Secondly, the owner of the land and the occupier of the land must give their consent before the order is made. if the owner and occupier of the land subsequently demand that the order be rescinded the appropriate local authority must revoke the order.
§ Service areas in the neighbourhood of shops are often tilled with parked cars that have no business to be there, These cars obstruct service vehicles and, in consequence, delivery vans are often forced to manoeuvre and park on the public road where they do, of course, cause congestion and obstruction. Moreover because the cars are parked on private land and not obstructing the highway, they cannot be controlled.
§ The Government therefore propose that powers should be available to county councils as traffic authorities to designate land by order as a service area, called in this clause a " loading area ", so that private cars would be banned from parking on land so designated. Since the land which could be designated would be any land which appeared to the appropriate local authority to have been set apart for 63 the purpose of loading and unloading, the authority would have to decide as a matter of fact whether the land had been so set apart. In a few cases the owners or occupiers may wish to reserve part of the area for the parking of their own cars, et cetera, and under the clause this will be possible. Subsection (3) of the clause also enables provision to be made in the order for different kinds of vehicles, different parts of the area and different times of day.
§ Under subsection (4) the provisions of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 about the procedure in connection with the making of orders are applied. Under Subsection (6), provisions of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 are applied which would enable the local authority to remove vehicles contravening a prohibition on parking in a loading area.
§ It may he objected that owners-occupiers do not need these powers, that their existing powers, for instance, to fence their land and control entry through a manned gate are quite sufficient. However, experience shows that this is not so. Fencing and manning are too expensive, and once someone has parked his vehicle on the land there is considerable doubt in law as to the extent of force that can be used to remove it. The relatively simple remedy of taking the offender to court for what will become a criminal offence is therefore proposed. Local authorities may also take action under the clause. Actual prosecutions may not need to he numerous. Local publicity for the legislation and good signing (which will he prescribed by the Department) of loading areas should do much of the work of clearing the areas for their proper use. I think I should point out here that this is well precedented, as also are the two previous new clauses which I moved, Amendments Nos. 34 and 35. I beg to move.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her explanation of this clause, but I would ask her just two questions about it. Clearly the new clause after Clause 29 is going to affect a great many individuals. The noble Baroness said, as I understood her, that the Government would lay down by regulations that these matters should be advertised in order that there should be advertised for local objections. I take it that 64 that is to be the case; otherwise I can see that it is the kind of thing which could cause very considerable local disquiet among people when there is a conflict of interest in parking between vehicles loading and unloading, and private car owners w ho expected to be able to park in that particular situation. I can think of a good many local shopping centres where this kind of new clause would apply. It is very necessary that there must be proper notices and proper public advertisement before it takes effect. Would the noble Baroness be good enough to confirm that? Secondly, the noble Baroness said that the last three new clauses that she has introduced have all been well precedented. I take it that this means in private Acts and not in any public Act. Perhaps the noble Baroness will confirm that this is so.
§ Baroness BIRK
The answer is " Yes ", to both questions put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. We are stressing local publicity for the legislation and the signing will he prescribed by the Department so the authorities will have a lead. This means there will be consistency in different areas. This is all well precedented in private Acts and although I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will not want me to read them all over again, many of the subsections are drawn from public Acts. So far as signposting and publicity are concerned, procedure regulations will also provide for proper notices and publicity. I hope the noble Baroness will now feel reassured about this.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 30 [Use of spare capacity of computers and printing equipment of local authorities]:
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Wootton of Abinger)
I have to call attention to the fact that if this Amendment is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 38.
§ Lord MERRIVALE moved Amendment No. 37:
§ Page 36, line 18, leave out (" or printing equipment ").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 37, and it is my intention to speak also to Amendments Nos. 39, 40, 65 41 and 43. I would add that the arguments are applicable also to a separate set of Amendments, Nos. 38 and 44, in the name of my noble friend Lady Young and myself. The purpose of these Amendments is to confine the powers conferred by Clause 30 solely to the use of surplus capacity of computers; in other words, any device of local authorities for storing and processing information. I understand that the whole tenor of the Government's justification for this Bill has been that its chief purpose is to give general effect to clauses which are well precedented in local Acts, and which are non-controversial. I understand, too, that two years ago the Department of the Environment circulated a list of matters for inclusion in a general powers measure for local authorities. Some are covered in the present Bill, but there was no mention then of any intention to confer the powers contained in Clause 30.
§ As I mentioned on Second Reading, Clause 30 was introduced without warning on Report in another place. The Opposition, who had no time for any consultation before the debate, accepted the clause, though questioning whether some authorities might not perhaps buy excess equipment in order to undertake outside work. As the noble Baroness will be aware, the British Printing Industries Federation fears, as the requirements of local authorities extend to many kinds of printed matter, that a local authority could acquire virtually any printing machine, even though the authority might only be able to use it on their own work for a fraction of its total capacity. An additional danger, surely, is that a local authority may feel justified in acquiring additional printing machinery on account of an unexpected, urgent demand for printed matter needed to perform its own functions, as all spare capacity at the time was being used on commercial work.
§ With regard to commercial work, it is difficult to see how local authorities would be able to obtain orders for printing except by undercutting. Then, competition from local authority printing operations would be unfair to commercial printers, as such operations could first of all be subsidised by the rates to the extent that the prices charged failed to cover costs, and secondly, local authorities might well be unable to calculate their true costs in running commercial printing departments due to the 66 difficulty of apportioning the capital, labour and overhead costs between commercial and non-commercial activities. There is also the difficulty of apportioning overhead costs between printing and non-printing activities.
§ The clause, too, could have a very damaging effect on jobs and investment in the printing industry where, I am advised, already there is unemployment. Apart from the concern expressed by the CBI, the Printing Industry Committee of the TUC, and the British Printing Industries Federation, the noble Baroness will also be aware of the grave concern expressed by such firms as United Printing Services on the issue of possible repercussions on redundancies, short-time working, bank-ruptcies and works closures, and by other printers all round the country. For the moment, I understand that the industry is working well below capacity.
§ If I understood the noble Baroness aright on Second Reading, I think she said that the Government would be prepared to accept additional clauses proposed by local authority associations (as she has done this afternoon) as Clause 30 was in another place, only if they fitted the criteria of being desirable, well precedented and non-controversial. In fact Clause 30 is highly controversial so far as the printing industry is concerned. The only precedent lies in Section 38 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1969, which has no emphasis on printing equipment, and the power to print for other persons has never been used. The precedent, therefore, is really weak.
§ In conclusion, for the reasons I have outlined, I hope the noble Baroness will be able to accept my arguments and agree to this Amendment, for, as one printer in Banbury put it to his local MP:
" The damage which could be caused to the printing industry if this Amendment is not accepted by the Government is inestimable."
§ Surely, computers and printing equipment are completely different. In other words, computers with their necessary minimum high level of capital investment are one thing, photo-litho machines quite another. Finally, at present local authorities can print solely for other public bodies, which should take care of any spare capacity a local authority might temporarily have. I beg to move.67
§ Baroness BIRK
I have listened very carefully and with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale. It is true that originally our main aim in preparing this clause—which was, incidentally, added to the Bill on Report in another place—was to provide for the sale of spare time on computers. There are some 75 precedents for the sale of spare computer time, so that very clearly falls within the scope of the Bill. Printing, which came along with this at the same time, is, of course, in reality a separate matter. There are two precedents in private Acts. There is the London one to which the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, referred, and there is also the Essex County Council's Private Act along the same lines. Nevertheless he is quite right in saying it cannot be described as well precedented; it is precedented but not well precedented. Nor is it, as I have recently discovered from my postbag, non-controversial. It is highly controversial. I have had innumerable letters from printing firms, individuals, trade unionists, and everybody connected with the printing industry it seems to me. I think, therefore, that the case that has been made out for the deletion of references to printing from the clause is an extremely strong case. As the noble Lord pointed out, it certainly no longer falls within the criterion of non-controversial, and therefore on behalf of the Government I accept these Amendments.
§ Lord MERRIVALE
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness and to Her Majesty's Government. I know what she has said this afternoon will give great pleasure to the British Printing Industries Federation and to its director, Mr. Henry Kendall, who, I know, has had considerable correspondence with the noble Baroness's Department and Ministers concerned in another place and in this House. It will also give great pleasure to members of the British Printing Industries Federation as well as to the C.B.I. The noble Baroness said she has had quite a lot of correspondence, and I have had passed to me by Members of another place quite a large number of letters written to them by printers in their areas. For those reasons, I would extend on behalf of those who are affected my very heartfelt thanks.
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
Naturally, I do not want to disagree with my noble 68 friend the Minister, but she did mention that under one of the Private Acts, the Essex County Council, of which I used to have the honour of being chairman, has power to employ printing in the manner suggested in the Bill. All I am asking, without differing from my noble friend, is whether the powers the Essex County Council now enjoy under that private legislation will last for a few years until all this private legislation is done away with, or whether they will have to cease employing their printing plant in the manner suggested as soon as the Bill is passed ? I think they will be able to enjoy it for the rest of the period of their private legislation. So far as my knowledge goes—and I was chairman of many of the County Council's committees—not very much use was made of the power to take printing from outside sources. In fact we placed a very good deal of our printing contracts with outside firms.
There is one other matter I should like to refer to; that is, Amendment No. 43, which the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, said he was associating with his Amendment No. 37. Amendment No. 43 seeks to make a deletion at page 36, line 34, to leave out the words,and ' printing equipment ' includes any equipment for reproducing or recording documents ".If that were accepted, it would mean that the famous Xerox apparatus which is used in many offices, including local authority offices, would be prohibited. Surely, that is not the intention. I presume the noble Lord means ordinary letterpress printing and not Xerox or other photographic means of recording documents?
§ Lord MERRIVALE
I think the earlier remarks of the noble Lord were addressed to the noble Baroness. With regard to the latter part of his remarks, my understanding was that the acceptance by the noble Baroness of my Amendment No. 37 was acceptance of the batch of Amendments, which would include Amendment No. 43.
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
If that is so—and only my noble friend can say that—I wish she would look again at Amendment No. 43, which would prohibit councils from using these Xerox and similar machines.
§ Baroness YOUNG
If I may intervene for a moment, perhaps by way of explanation on that last point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, I think his remarks should really be addressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, but as I understand Amendment No. 43, it would not prohibit local authorities from carrying out their own work, which quite rightly they should do, but only from taking on outside work which could be done by an outside firm. If I have understood the noble Baroness correctly, we are very grateful for her offer to accept these Amendments on printing, and this would no doubt cover all the Amendments in the tidying up of this clause, to make it read as it is now the Government's intention that it should read.
§ Baroness BIRK
In answer to my noble friend Lord Leatherland in regard to his point about the Essex County Council and any other authority which is already using these powers, nothing in this Bill will repeal anything in existence at the moment. On his second point, about the deletion of the words in Amendment No. 43, certainly, as I understand it, it refers, as do the other references in this clause, to using the spare capacity for functions other than functions of the council, in other words, using it for outside commercial use. There would be no question, to my mind, of a local authority not being able to use Xeroxing or any other printing equipment for its own use. It is the spare capacity which would be used for commercial purposes.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Lord MERRIVALEmoved Amendment No. 39:
§ Page 36, line 22, leave out (" or equipment ").
§ The noble Lord said : This is consequent upon Amendment No. 37. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Lord MERRIVALEmove Amendment No. 40:
§ Page 36, line 28, leave out (" or equipment ").
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.70
§ Lord MERRIVALE: moved Amendment No. 41:
§ Page 36, leave out line 29.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord AIREDALEmoved Amendment No. 42:
§ Page 36, line 32, at end insert (" not being less than the payment appearing to the local authority to be charged by undertakings owned other than by public bodies for similar facilities, services or goods.")
§ The noble Lord said: Thanks to the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, we are now left with the use of spare capacity of computers alone as an exception to the general conception that trading is not a function of local authorities. Local authorities have ample functions without engaging in trade and anything in the nature of municipal trading is regarded with a good deal of disfavour. However, we have here the exceptional case of an expensive computer being required by a local authority for its own purposes but having spare capacity and using that spare capacity for commercial purposes. If it is not the function of local authorities generally to engage in trade, still less is it their function to attempt to undercut private enterprise in the same field; yet in a case like this there may be considerable temptation to a local authority to undercut.
§ A local authority may think in this way: " The computer was required by us for our own purposes, otherwise we should not have been entitled to obtain it, and if it was required for our own purposes we can allocate the cost of purchasing it or hiring it, and allocate that purely against the cost of running it for our own purposes, and anything that we can make over and above the mere cost of the electricity it uses and the person who operates it, in return for its use for outside work, we can regard as pure profit and as a great benefit to the ratepayers." This of course is enormously detrimental to the interests of private enterprise operating in the same field, who obviously can operate the machine only taking into account the enormous cost of acquiring the machine in the first instance. Therefore it seems only right to insert a proviso which says that a local authority, in doing commercial work for outside interests, shall not undercut private enterprise operating in the 71 same field. The Amendment is precedented in the County of South Glamorgan Bill, and I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
I accept that if local authorities are to be able to sell the spare capacity of their computers they should do so at rates which reflect the current market rate for the job. We have no wish for local authorities to offer their machines for hire at rates which are unrealistic. I therefore accept the Amendment in principle, but would prefer to put it in our own words, and I will introduce an Amendment on Report. The Amendment cannot be accepted as it stands because of its wording. For example, " payments " in legal drafting are evidently not " a charge ". Nor is " undertakings " the right expression for the persons or bodies providing such services in the private sector. This is not a criticism of the noble Lord, who drafts his Amendments magnificently. I am simply explaining some of the points of objection. However, if he will agree to withdraw the Amendment I will bring forward one on Report.
§ Lord AIREDALE
Only the other day the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that she never expected her drafting to be right. That being the case, who am I to expect my drafting to be right ? I am glad to hear that the Amendment meets with sympathy from the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord MERRIVALE moved Amendment No. 43:
§ Page 36, line 34, leave out from (" information ") to end of line 35.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 45:
After clause 30, insert the following new clause:
§ Power of local authorities to prescribe signs etc. to be used on certain buildings
- (a) prescribe standard uniform signs or symbols or warning notices in a form approved or prescribed by the Secretary of State clearly indicating the nature of the substance and the existence of danger to persons so engaged :
- (b) by notice require the occupier of any part of any premises used for the manufacture or storage of the substance to affix, within such reasonable time as is specified in the notice, and thereafter keep fixed in such conspicuous position or positions as the county council may direct in or on the part of the premises used for such manufacture or storage, the appropriate sign, symbol or notice.
§ (2) Any person who contravenes the requirements of a county council under this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50 and to a daily fine not exceeding £10.
§ The noble Lord said : I move this Amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Gisborough. It consists of a new clause and it may be of assistance if I were to explain some of its background. My noble friend has been asked by the County Council of Cleveland to move this new clause to help towards ensuring greater safety to firemen when dealing with premises containing hazardous chemicals and substances by the display of signs indicating the nature of those substances which are stored therein.
§ As your Lordships will probably know, Cleveland has the largest complex of petrochemicals in the country and w ill very soon have the largest chemical complex in the Western world. Not only this, by 1980 it will also have the largest steel complex. We can be very proud of this, but at the same time there are clearly risks attached to a concentration of highly technical industry in a relatively confined area. Of course, that industry is concerned not only with itself but also with its own feedstocks, which are brought to it from other areas, so there is a transport concomitant as well. We are reminded all too clearly by what took place at Flixborough on 1st June 1974 of what can happen when a mishap takes place in a chemical plant; it can have very widespread and important repercussions.
§ The concentration of chemicals has made the County of Cleveland very much aware of this problem, and the possibilities of accidents are therefore never very far from the authority's mind. This has led, since July 1975, to a voluntary scheme among industrialists in that part 73 of the world concerned with hazardous chemicals and their transport, storage and manufacture known as the Hazchem Scheme. This consists of the labelling of vehicles so that if one of them is involved in an accident the firemen can, by reading the label, make a quick and accurate decision as to how to deal with the crisis and whether they should wear special clothing to protect themselves in tackling a very dangerous situation. The object of the proposed new clause is to extend the Hazchem Scheme from vehicles to buildings or to wherever there is likely to be a fire or the danger of fire through spillage, and the emergency services can immediately know how to deal with it with the greatest effect and the least danger to themselves and to others. The basis of the new clause is Section 16 of the Tees-side Corporation (General Powers) Act 1971 and although these powers are still enforceable in the old area of Tees-side, they are not enforceable in the rest of the county, and it is vital that the whole of the rest of the United Kingdom should be covered effectively and enjoy the benefits of this safety scheme. The clause provides for the Secretary of State to approve various signs and these would be considered by the Health and Safety Commission and Executive, who would give their advice on the matter. County councils would in any event be given discretion to prescribe signs and would be under no obligation to do so; thus, it is a permissive power and not a mandatory one.
§ There appear, however, to be two stumbling blocks which the Government have come up against in considering this new clause since it was first moved in another place. First, there is the difficulty of marking buildings where more than one hazardous chemical substance is kept, such as a laboratory. However, it would seem that warning of this very fact is vital to firemen because many safe substances can become highly volatile and highly toxic when mixed together and firemen should be warned to use breathing apparatus in what might become a toxic situation but which at first appeared to be a non-toxic area. Secondly, the question is whether powers already exist under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 for councils to extend their own Regulations.
§ The Government have suggested that powers already exist and that by the 74 employment of powers under that Act for making Regulations, this new clause is rendered unnecessary. However, I am advised that powers under the Act are not wide enough at the present time to cover the making of appropriate regulations in the particular instance where a private employer provides a private place of work but where a fire may not be due to an employee, to the fault of an employee, or lack of care or anything of that nature but may be an unforeseeable act of God.
§ Further, if regulations were made under the Health and Safety at Work Act there would be an unacceptable delay. There is a further strong reason why regulations should not be made under the Health and Safety at Work Act. The county provides the service and should thus be the enforcing authority to ensure that the regulations are carried out, rather than the Health and Safety at Work Executive. I believe that this new clause would be beneficial and that it would further enable the Regulations to be put in hand at once rather than there having to be further discussions with the Health and Safety Commission, and I therefore commend it to your Lordships.
§ Lord MERRIVALE
I do not wish to disagree with my noble friend Lord Sandys, who speaks from the Front Bench, but I wish to raise a matter with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in view of the fact that the proposed new clause is causing some concern to the CBI. The CBI considers that the matter to which my noble friend has referred and the powers which he is seeking to have included in the Bill would he more appropriately dealt with in the Regulations coming under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. I do not know what the reaction of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will be to the proposed new clause, but I should like to know whether her Department has had consultations on the subject with the CBI and what its reaction to it has been, for my understanding is that it would object to the new clause being inserted in the Bill.
§ Baroness BIRK
Nobody could possibly disagree with the intention behind the new clause, which was carefully and clearly explained by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys. Its intention obviously is to improve safety for firemen who are called 75 to attend fires at premises where chemicals are stored, and any measure to improve safety must be looked at very carefully. If there are difficulties, as there are, in the marking of stores containing hazardous substances, efforts must be made to overcome them. Difficulties may arise, as we know, when more than one chemical compound is stored in the same building, as is often the case at chemical suppliers' premises, in the chemical stores of smaller manufacturing companies or in laboratories of hospitals or places of education. I remember that when I was associated with taking the Health and Safety at Work Act through this House a number of these problems arose and were discussed then and it was decided that this would be dealt with by way of regulations.
The point here is that it is a matter for the Health and Safety Commission. The same new clause was moved at short notice on Report in another place and there was at that time only the possibility to give it a rather superficial review, but since then it has been looked at very much more closely. We have come to the conclusion that it would be wrong to legislate in this Bill when adequate statutory powers are available already, and if it is found that more legislation is eventually needed then it is legislation in that area—in the health and safety at work area, the employment area—rather than in this local government area where it should lay. It is interesting to note that although clauses of this nature have been the subject of certain local Acts in the past, inquiries by the Health and Safety Executive have failed to discover any areas where the clause has in fact been used so far; the GLC is one of these areas.
The desirable criteria for a hazard warning scheme include we think at least the following, and I do not think that there will be much disagreement about this: it should be of national application, it must he readily understood by firemen, it must be compatible with other legislation—and with EEC requirements now—it must cope with the problem of mixed stores and, if adopted, it must be required in every set of premises, as absence of a sign may be taken by a fireman to indicate " no hazard " whereas it might mean that no notice had been put up there. It must be an offence not to display a 76 notice and the problem of redundant notices, which could put firemen and the public to great inconvenience, will also need to be covered. In other words, it could be just as dangerous to have odd notices up which were misleading as to have no notices. It must also provide for questions of security and it must provide for an appeal system to settle disputes. The Executive are confident that these can only be met by national regulations.
In the present clause there is no provision requiring the removal of redundant signs. As drafted, the clause says that it would be an offence to fail to comply with a notice served by a county council but, once a notice is served, there is no provision for appeal against its terms. We think it undesirable that industry should have no right of appeal against a notice if failure to comply is to be a criminal offence. If regulations are made under the Health and Safety at Work Act, the notice procedures in that Act, with their built-in right of appeal to an industrial tribunal, could be used and would overcome that difficulty.
While I am on the point about industry, in answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, there has been no consultation with the CBI. There has not been time or need since the Amendment was tabled because, if the Health and Safety Executive make the regulations, they will of course consult the CBI, which is represented on the Health and Safety Commission. The TUC will also be consulted. The point is that this is clearly an area of health and safety at work where there should be a comprehensive remedy. If legislation is needed it should he sited there. The chairman of the Commission has agreed that urgent consideration should be given to the making of regulations on this subject. Therefore, I do not want to delay the Committee on the details of the present Amendment nor to go over the drafting or the problems arising from the way in which it is drafted.
The main point is that such a provision is not really correct for adoption by individual local authorities. It is a national matter. I have very great sympathy with it. I feel that it is a matter of urgency and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, and any other noble Lord concerned would be doing a public 77 and social service if they pressed very hard on the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, whose name, address and telephone number I have in front of me. I mean that quite seriously. I believe that it is the right way to tackle this. There should be mandatory implications here. This is far too serious a matter for it to be left to the discretion of individual local authorities. We should be able to rely on the criteria which I read out at the beginning of my reply and which I believe to be extremely important. The fact that this has been brought up and the discussion on this new clause will, I believe, have been extremely useful even though I hope the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, will withdraw the clause. I shall only say that I hope the noble Lord will go ahead and push hard at the Health and Safety Commission.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
May I endorse the remarks of the noble Baroness as regards the importance of the safety of firemen who are dealing with situations of great gravity where there are certain parameters of danger which are unknown to them'? In view of her observations, is the noble Baroness dissatisfied with the present arrangements for preserving the security of firemen in regard to chemicals in hospitals, laboratories and firms whose activities may be unknown which may produce danger to firemen ? I was not quite sure exactly what the noble Baroness was referring to in the last part of her otherwise admirable speech.
§ Baroness BIRK
I am not quite sure that I understood the point of what the noble Lord was asking. What I meant was that, whereas firemen even now get as much help as possible and a considerable amount is done, with the increase in the number of toxic materials that are dealt with and with the increased concentration on health and safety at work, which is certainly a move in the right direction, clearly, there is always room for improvement and I believe that this is so in this field. The noble Lord was quite right to remind us of Flixborough and there have unfortunately been a number of other similar tragedies. What I was saying was that the request is sited in the wrong piece of legislation. That was all I was saying. I did not mean that there is no need for anything to be done about this.
§ Lord SANDYS
I am much obliged to the noble Baroness for what she has said, both in her introduction in regard to the question of appeals and the whole situation so far as the Amendment is concerned, as well as for her comments on the best means of tackling this very important matter. I should indeed be most grateful for the name, address and telephone number of the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission. I now have it in front of me and I am very much obliged to the noble Baroness for her suggestions and recommendations. In the circumstances, I am sure that it would be for the convenience of the Committee were I to withdraw the Amendment at this stage, leaving the opportunity to return to the matter on Report if necessary. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 31 agreed to.
§ Clauses 32 and 33 agreed to.
§ Clause 34 [Certain 'inure local Acts etc. to be subject to the planning enactments etc. except as otherwise provided]:
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 46:
§ Page 39, line 7, leave out from beginning to (" and ") in line 9.
§ The noble Baroness said: This Amendment has been put down at the request of
§ the Department of Trade, the Department responsible for the administration of Section 34 of the 1949 Act. They have advised that it would be of no value to apply Section 34 of the Coast Protection Act 1949 to all " works " Bills and orders because that section has been found to be technically defective. This is because the conditions which can be imposed upon a consent granted under the section bind only the person carrying out the works which necessitate the consent, and to whom the consent is given, and then only until the construction of the works has been completed. They do not enable conditions to be imposed which, for the life of the works, would safeguard shipping.
§ To provide such a safeguard, the Department of Trade, instead of imposing conditions under Section 34 of the Coast Protection Act 1949, require the Promoters of Private Bills for the carrying out of 79 works to insert certain clauses for the protection of navigation. These overcome the deficiences described. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendments Nos. 46A and 46B:
§ Page 39, line 9, leave out (" and ").
§ Page 39, line 12, at end insert (" ; and
§ (e) section 1(1) of the Dumping at Sea Act 1974 (which imposes restrictions on dumping in the sea), ").
§ The noble Baroness said: The latter Amendment is the substantive one. It adds Section 1(1) of the Dumping at Sea Act 1974 to the list of enactments specified in Clause 34 which are enactments to which future local legislation authorising the carrying out of specific works on specific land will be subject. The first Amendment is consequential. Section 1(1) of the Dumping at Sea Act 1974 provides that the restrictions imposed by the Act are in addition to any restriction imposed by or under any other enactment. In local legislation, it is sometimes the case that dredged materials are not to be deposited in the sea without the consent of the Secretary of State or of the particular harbour or navigation authority in question.
§ However, Section 1(1) relates only to those enactments passed before the Dumping at Sea Act 1974 and it is therefore necessary to insert savings clauses in local Acts and orders passed or made after the 1974 Act which make specific provision for dredging and the disposal in the sea of the materials dredged. This Amendment would dispense with the need to insert savings clauses for the 1974 Act in local legislation containing specific provisions relating to the dumping of substances in the sea. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 34, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 35 [Interpretation etc. of Part I]:
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 47:
§ Page 39, line 39, after (" 25 ") insert (" 26 ").
§ The noble Lord said: This is a very straightforward Amendment and is intended to empower a parish council, a 80 local council or a community council to carry out works outside its own area. We are concerned here with a practical matter. Quite often a local council may, for instance, wish to erect a bus shelter in a place just outside its area. The shelter may be on the opposite side of the road to another shelter which comes within the council's area. Alternatively, the council may wish to conduct other works of a similar nature outside its area. The Amendment does not need further explanation and so I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
As the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, explained, the Amendment has the effect of extending the provisions of Clause 26 to parish and community councils. The Amendment is identical to the one put down during the Commons Report stage. Where a power already exists enabling a local authority to carry out works within its own area, Clause 26 empowers the authority to carry out those works elsewhere provided that the enabling power does not prohibit such an extension. As drafted, however, Clause 26 does not extend to parish or community councils.
The Amendment would seem to have been prompted by the National Association of Local Councils. Both parish and community councils enjoy a fairly limited range of works powers which in the main would, I am afraid, seem to be unsuitable for exercise outside the area of their parish or community and, by implication, in the area of some other parish or community. These councils are essentially local in character and are designed to cater for essentially local needs. That is their modus vivendi. To give them such an extension of their powers as the Amendment proposes would seem to conflict with their nature. Therefore, I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that his Amendment is admirable but quite unacceptable.
§ Lord SANDYS
It will be no surprise to the noble Baroness to learn that I do not agree with her because it is on the small scale and in the area of a parish or a community that very often it is of great advantage that minor works can be carried out to the benefit of all concerned. Nevertheless, I hope that it may be possible for the noble Baroness's Department to have consultations with the National 81 Association of Local Councils before the next stage of the Bill, and with that I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 48:
§ Page 40, line 12, leave out (" section ") and insert (" sections 3(2)(d) and ").
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 48A:
§ Page 41, line 8, after (" 2(5) ") insert (" or subsection (2)(c) of section (Control of parking on areas used for loading or unloading goods vehicles)").
§ The noble Baroness said: This Amendment is consequential on the addition to the Bill of the new clause, which we have already accepted, dealing with the control of parking on areas used for loading or unloading goods vehicles. Subsection (2)(c) of this clause deals with the duty of a council to revoke an order if the owner and occupier ask them to. The effect of the Amendment is simply to reserve the position whereby it is open to an owner or occupier to take action by way of civil proceedings if a council fails to carry out its duty of revoking an order when requested to do so. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 35, as amended, agreed to.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Clause 36 [Application of Part II]:
§ Lord DE CLIFFORD moved Amendment No. 49:
§ Page 41, line 16, leave out (" is ") and insert (" was ").
§ The noble Lord said: I wish to move this Amendment on behalf of my noble friend. I understand that the effect of this part of the Bill is to bring the 1847 Act into operation in all the areas throughout the country. My noble friend wishes to prevent the extension of this Part of the Bill to the deep rural areas which are unlikely ever to see hackney carriages. I understand that already in the area of Felixstowe there has been an extension of area which may inhibit the provision of hired cars in rural areas. My noble friend would like to be told whether this proposal could be held up pending 82 consultation. I understand that there has been considerable consultation on this matter, but my noble friend thinks—and I must agree with him—that anything which would prevent or hinder the provision of transport in rural areas, where buses and all the other means of public transport are becoming fewer, is most undesirable. I beg to move.
§ Lord SANDYS
At this point we start on Part II of the Bill which as your Lordships will be aware begins with the words:Hackney carriages and private hire vehicles.I am wholly in agreement with what my noble friend Lord de Clifford said in moving the Amendment so admirably. It surprises me very much that in 1976 the Government are basing a major series of 36 clauses in Part II of the Bill upon an Act of 1847 which applied to the horse-drawn world where at that time motor transport was never considered. I was not fully aware of what a hackney " is, so I looked it up in the dictionary, and I should like to recount the definition for your Lordships. It is:Hackney—an ambling horse or mare, especially for ladies to ride on.Under a further derivative it is stated:plying for hire, as hackney carriage, a hackney chair or a hackney coach.A very serious point of drafting is involved here. The question of whether the law should be suitably amended by taking up the Act of 1847 and writing new provisions into that Act, rather than writing off the whole of the Act of 1847, has been very carefully considered and we shall listen with close attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has to tell us.
I return once again to an old favourite, the prologue to Plain Words, by Sir Ernest Gowers. What he said was this—and I quote his exact words:Whatever the purpose, the object of the writer will be the same: to make the reader take his meaning readily and precisely ".That must be the touchstone of all good draftsmanship, and I hope that the Government will be able to explain to us why the decision has been taken to introduce a series of 36 clauses based on the Act of 1847.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
I should like to support, on the same lines, the two noble Lords who have just spoken. I have been approached by the National Federation of Taxicab Drivers, and they have put up the same reasoned case that here we have the Act of 1847 being taken in by Part II of the Bill instead of, as the noble Lord has said, being repealed by it—and I must confess that when I first looked at the notes I thought it could not be 1847 but must be 1947. The National Federation feel that the industry has been promised, and indeed the local government associations have been promised, a consolidated Bill dealing entirely with this section for many years (decades, I think, could be a more correct description) and yet it seems that the Government have taken the opportunity merely to bring it into this Bill as Part II I should therefore like to say to the noble Lord that I shall certainly be introducing some Amendments at the next stage of the Bill.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)
I am not sure whether we are going to have, as it were, the debate on the Question whether the clause shall stand part, now or subsequent to the discussion on this particular Amendment. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has Motions down to leave out all the clauses in this Part of the Bill: but let me deal briefly with one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, and by my noble friend Lady Phillips. The reason why this section is in the Bill is that a substantial number of Members of the Standing Committee in another place defeated the Government. I may say that all the Conservative Members of the Committee voted against the Government, and that is why this part is in the Bill in the first place. That is the position: the Government were defeated on this matter. In Standing Committee in another place this entire section of the Bill was introduced, and the Government accepted the decision of Members of both sides—both some Members on the Government Benches and all the Members of the Conservative Party who were Members of the Standing Committee. So that in fact answers why this part is in the Bill in the first instance.
I suspect we may he coming back to the substance of this particular clause, and indeed to the whole range of issues involved 84 in Part II, on the Question, Whether the clause shall stand part, although I do not know whether that is the noble Baroness's intention, but perhaps I could deal briefly with the narrow question involved in the Amendment before us. If I could give just a little background, the position is this. Taxis are subject to licensing control under the Town Police Clauses Act—and, yes, it is 1847, and not any more recent year—and under byelaws, and this particular Act does not apply to London, it does not apply to Scotland and it does not apply to Northern Ireland. Private hire cars, on the other hand, are subject to control only in areas where there are local Acts—areas such as Liverpool and Sheffield. Following local government reorganisation, taxi controls have been extended throughout the area of the district in some districts, but in other districts taxis are controlled only in certain parts, such as the former urban districts of the area.
Perhaps I could give an illustration. Suppose that, as a result of local government reorganisation, the new local authority includes a particular urban district which had passed the appropriate resolution so far as the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 is concerned. In some cases, the taxi controls in that particular old urban district, now part of a larger authority, have remained, and in some areas the powers have been extended. Indeed, at the moment resolutions are still coming into us from local authorities to rationalise their arrangements—arrangements which are being rationalised as a result of local government reorganisation.
The problems involved in the noble Lord's Amendment are really these, that they would in fact freeze the patchwork situation as at the 12th February of this year. I am not wholly clear why the 12th February is the date selected, but I presume it is because it is the date, I think, of the publication of this Bill. But it is obviously a rather arbitrary date to select, and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, would accept that. This freezing would apply to private hire cars and—this is an important qualification—for some aspects of taxi controls, such as fares, licence fees and so on. This would inevitably prevent the subsequent rationalisation in the areas of control which, I repeat, has been made necessary by the 85 reorganisation of local government. I hope that on the basis of that explanation the noble Lord will not press this Amendment. Then, if we wish, as it were, to have a Part II debate, we might conceivably have it on the Question, Whether the clause shall stand part?
Lord DE CLIFFORD
I must thank the noble Lord for his reply. Virtually, this was an Amendment to discover what the situation really was, and no doubt my noble friend will read the noble Lord's reply very carefully and will consider it. I may be wrong in this matter, but is not the bulk of this Part based on the Plymouth City Council Act 1975? It bears the greatest resemblance to it, if it is not. But in view of what the noble Lord has said, and reserving this situation for Report stage, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 36 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Baroness YOUNG
I am very glad to have this opportunity to introduce really what is, I think, in a sense, a Second Reading debate on Part II of the Bill. I must explain why this is so to those Members of the Committee who have not had the advantage of following all the proceedings in detail. When we had the Second Reading debate I gave notice to, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that as we were taking this Bill only a day and a half after it had left another place we on this side of your Lordships' House had really not had an opportunity to study the Committee proceedings in another place or, indeed, to undertake the consultations that we would have wished to undertake. Therefore, I have put down the Motion to leave out Clause 36 because the more I have looked at Part II of the Bill the stranger I have found the whole sequence of events that surrounds it.
I can quite appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, would rush to say that Part II was inserted because the Conservative Members in another place supported it in Committee, but I am sure he would agree with me that that is not really more than a rather slight debating point, because had the Government wished to put it right at another stage they would not have hesitated to do so. In fact, 86 they did not do so, so they have presumably accepted this argument and left it at that. They have done so when the Government must have been in much greater possession of the facts than the Opposition could conceivably have been, because this matter arose very suddenly at Committee stage in another place when one of the Members introduced 36 (I think it was) new clauses into the Bill—at least, the whole of Part II.
None of these new clauses was debated at any length at all; and, on rereading the debate in another place, I found that only three speeches were made, with the Government Minister, Mr. Oakes, winding up, after which there was a Division taken to include all these new clauses in the Bill. It may well be that the fault was on the part of some of my honourable friends, but I believe that those of us who are in Opposition have not the benefit of all the advice that, naturally, Government Ministers can get, and it may well have been that they, too, had they considered the matter further, would have reached the same conclusions as those to which my noble friends and I have come.
The fact is, as the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, has said, that this is very largely based on the Plymouth City Council Act; and I understand it is precedented in two other local Acts. The difference between this and a Public Bill, of course, is that, when a Bill appears as a local Act, private individuals have the right to make representations against it; and, indeed, they did in the case of the Plymouth City Council Act and of the other ones. Now it has been incorporated into a General Act and these private individuals have not had the opportunity to make their representations against it because it is a Public Bill and not a Private Bill. Furthermore, they had wished and had confidently expected that the Home Office would have introduced a general Bill or at least would have undertaken extensive consultations and, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I am certain will be aware, his honourable friend Dr. Summerskill undertook that there would be consultations particularly with the private hire operators as well as those running taxicabs.
At a very late stage, rather limited consultations did take place, for which I am certain that all those who took part in 87 them are very grateful. But what has emerged is that in fact this general legislation adversely affects the national operation of private hire and chauffeur-driven cars particularly in regard to freedom of movement; because the specific point is that what may apply within the boundaries of Plymouth City Council may be completely justifiable and working satisfactorily with nobody having any complaints, either drivers, operators or customers, becomes a completely different proposition when this narrow legislation is extended throughout the country.
I therefore feel that there is a quite strong case on both grounds for removing from Part II in toto all the parts of this legislation which apply to private hire vehicles. The case, I believe, is weak in the case of taxi drivers but at least it is based on the Act of 1847. It has appeared in general legislation since then and this is something which is understood ; but in the case of private hire vehicles it has not appeared in general legislation before, there have not been any consultations, and, in fact, some of the provisions appear to be completely unintelligible and I cannot believe they can have been the intention of the Home Office.
I understand, for example, that if I decide to hire a car to take me from London to Gatwick—which is the kind of thing that somebody might do—and then I wanted it to take me from Gatwick to Heathrow this would not be possible under the terms of the Bill and we should have to start the whole procedure again. This kind of freedom of movement to hire a car in one place and move on round the country if you so wish is a long-established function and is a great public service for those who want it. I understand that because this public legislation is based on these Private Bills, this freedom of movement at the moment would be curtailed.
I hope that we shall get this quite clear, but certainly those concerned nationally with private hire operations are concerned at the way this Bill will operate. They feel, with considerable justification, that they have not had the opportunity for proper consultation and they feel that they have been promised by the Home Office for a great many years a consultation document followed by a Bill which 88 would cover taxicabs and private hire vehicles and this has not come about. The whole of this has been slipped very suddenly into public legislation and they feel very concerned about it. If I am expressing a concern today, it is one that has been made very forcibly to me.
We were all impressed by the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, accepted that there had been a great deal of criticism of the clause concerned with printing and, on the basis that the Bill was meant to be non-controversial, she generously withdrew that part of the Bill and this is something for which we are all grateful. I hope that the Minister responsible for those parts of the Bill which are concerned with taxis and private hire cars will realise that these, too, are equally controversial, particularly the private hire arrangements, and are against the principles as enunciated when the Bill was introduced, and I hope he will consider seriously either amending them radically or withdrawing some of them.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Lord AIREDALE
I should like to support what the noble Baroness has said. The Minister was startlingly frank, I thought, in what he said just now. The Government got stuck with Part II of the Bill because they were defeated by the Conservatives in Standing Committee in another place. I do not want to come into the Party question at all; but surely if a Government are stuck with something one day, they are not stuck with it for all time. I think I am right in saying that by the Standing Committee stage there had been no consultation with the private hire firms at all.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
That was because there was no element in the Bill at that time involving any of these parts of the Bill that we are now discussing.
§ Lord AIREDALE
Indeed! Surely a Government can say: " Since this part of the Bill was sprung upon us, we have had limited consultations in the limited time that has elapsed since that day. We have come across all kinds of difficulties which we were quite unaware of on that occasion in Standing Committee and, had we known of them, we could have argued the case at Standing Committee against this part of the Bill. We have had second 89 thoughts about this in the intervening time. We have our own ideas of how a Bill to deal with this topic should be drafted and they are different from this part of the Bill, based as it is on a Private Act of a local authority. We therefore gracefully accept that Part II simply will not stand up any longer and we therefore agree, at least in so far as it relates to private hire operators, to dispense with it and to start again with something very much more satisfactory."
If this is gone ahead with, what are the multiple private hire operators going to be faced with ?—a patchwork of England with controlled areas here and there and uncontrolled areas in between, faced with different conditions regulating the conduct of their business according to what area they start from; what area they are going to arrive at at the other end, and what areas they are going to pass through in between as to whether these different areas are going to be controlled or uncontrolled. Further to that, even in so far as the controlled areas are concerned (this being an adoptive Bill and the local authorities having a choice whether or not to adopt it) let no one suppose that the controlled areas are going to have identical regulations. Far from it! This part of the Bill is full of conditions which each local authority may impose in its own particular area.
Let us take one example: the kind of car that can be used for hire purposes. A subsection of Clause 39 specifies conditions as to its type, size, design, appearance and comfort et cetera. This means—it must mean—that even as between two controlled areas a hire car which is satisfactory in one area is not satisfactory, does not comply with the conditions, in another. This really creates chaos, not for the small firms which operate only in their own areas—that is not complicated—but for the nationwide hire car companies who are doing long distance work. For them it is going to be chaos.
There is one crumb of comfort in all this. It is in Clause 66(1). It arises from the example of the journey to Gatwick which the noble Baroness mentioned just now. It is not a very big crumb of comfort because this subsection consists of three very restrictive elements. It says:Nothing in this Part of this Act shall apply to 90 a vehicle used for bringing passengers or goods within a controlled district … ".But it says nothing about taking passengers or goods out of a controlled district.
So the effect is this: supposing that I wanted to travel from Aldershot to Basingstoke, and Aldershot is a controlled district and Basingstoke is not. From Aldershot I telephone my favourite hire car firm in Basingstoke with whom I have an account, and I say, " Can you come to Aldershot to collect me and take me out of Aldershot to Basingstoke? ". The answer is, " We are very sorry, we cannot do it." We are only allowed to bring passengers into a controlled district. We cannot take them out ". This seems quite ridiculous.
Now let us go to the second element of this crumb of comfort. It has to be in pursuance of a contract for the hire of the vehicle made outside the district. Where is a contract made? Most of the contracts for hire vehicles—I imagine a very great many of them—are made by telephone. If I want to be met tomorrow at Southampton station I ring up from the Palace of Westminster a car hire firm in Southampton. I say, " Will you meet me in Southampton tomorrow ? ". I am in Westminster, they are in Southampton. Where is the contract made? If I had to bet upon it, I would bet the contract is made in Southampton. But I say so with very little confidence indeed. How can you expect hire car firms to grapple with legal complexities of this kind ?
Now we come to the third element: if a vehicle is not made available for hire within the district. Think of the mischief that that could cause! Somebody in Basingstoke marries somebody who lives in Aldershot. They have the wedding in Aldershot. There is a huge coming and going of friends and relations between Aldershot and Basingstoke. Somebody hires a car from Basingstoke and it goes to Aldershot. They say, " Now will you take somebody else back to Basingstoke? ". The answer is " No ". It cannot be done; it does not come within this subsection because they are not allowed to make the vehicle available for hire within the district. So what happens? The car from Basingstoke has to go back empty from Aldershot, and another car has to be hired in Aldershot to go to 91 Basingstoke. It comes back empty to Aldershot. That does not help the energy conservation programme, does it?
The whole of this shows every sign of being completely unthought-out in so far as it relates to nationwide car hire firms who simply will not know where they are. It is the most hopelessly unjust situation that could be foisted upon them. I hope that the Government will be able to say, " Having looked at this since the Standing Committee in another place, we realise that this simply is not on: we must start again and proceed with the Bill which we would hake introduced anyway ".
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I will come to the history of this matter, which was discussed by the noble Baroness, in a moment. I will begin by agreeing with her on one point: certainly legislation of this sort is intended to be precedented and non-controversial. With that in mind, the Government originally took the view that this Bill was not the right place for the introduction of Hackney carriage and private hire controls. The subject—as the noble Lord has just indicated in his speech—is a complicated one, and the Government have for some time—and the noble Baroness raised this point—been preparing a Consultative Document as a prelude to the introduction of comprehensive legislation. We intended that when the Consultative Document had been prepared and issued we should hold consultations with the local authority associations and the other interested bodies, following which we would prepare our own legislation. I must make this absolutely clear: I can give absolutely no guarantee at this time when we would find time in the legislative timetable for such legislation. That is a point, to which I will return in a moment, which no doubt weighed with the Standing Committee in another place.
It was because of this that we considered that the best course—and this is what we put forward at the standing Committee in another place—was not to include provisions proposed in this Part of the Bill. But the majority of the Committee took a contrary view. With great respect to the noble Baroness (whose judgment I rarely question). I do not regard it altogether as a debating point to 92 point out that this Part is only in the Bill because of the behaviour of the Opposition in Standing Committee at another place. It was a Conservative vote, together with a number of those members of my Party, that put this Part in the Bill. It is only fair to add this: normally Governments are accused of not listening to the voice of Parliament. On this occasion the noble Baroness appears to be accusing us of listening to the voice of Parliament and implementing that clearly expressed view.
In view of this clear expression of opinion by members of both Parties in the Standing Committee, the Government decided that they should not seek to overturn the wish of another place but they would do the best they could with this matter. In accordance with the undertaking given at Report stage in another place by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office, we have undertaken consultations with interested parties to see whether any modifications of the provisions of Part II are necessary. We intend to bring forward Amendments at Report stage which will meet at least some of the points which have been raised. I suggest it would also be wise to consider carefully the strongly felt view of another place in favour of including these provisions in the Bill because it is a clearly expressed wish, as I have endeavoured to point out.
There have been a number of points made by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. First, that there has been inadequate time for consultation about these provisions in the Bill. I would not seek to argue that there has been a substantial amount of time involved for these consultations. I accept that point immediately. The time-scale inevitably is very limited because we did not know that this clause was going to appear in the Bill until we were defeated in the Standing Committee. Nevertheless, these discussions have been pushed ahead with some energy and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said. There has been some gratitude expressed by those involved in the talks that we had pushed on with them. Secondly, there has been the suggestion that the provisions are inadequately precedented in local authority legislation, and I would not seek to pretend that there have been a large number of 93 local authorities which have used powers of this sort; but, nevertheless, there have been some.
The noble Baroness drew attention to the specific point about the precedents. Taxi and private car controls on the scale envisaged in this clause of the Bill are dealt with in comprehensive fashion in two recent local Acts: the Plymouth City Council Act 1975 and the Liverpool Corporation Act 1972. The new clauses introduced in another place were originally identical to those of the Plymouth Act, and we have seen no evidence so far to suggest that these two local Acts do not provide a satisfactory code of control, although they rely heavily on the provisions of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 which, in our view, is certainly ripe for reappraisal whether or not Part II of the present Bill passes on to the Statute Book. It was the view of a number of Members of another place that the provisions of Part II would form a useful interim measure of control while the more fundamental reappraisal of the 1847 Act was undertaken.
I hope that the answers I have given will help to allay some of the fears expressed. Certainly, as I have indicated, the Government intend to come forward at Report stage with a number of Amendments to this Bill as a result of the consultations which have taken place. I do not want to make heavy weather of this but I think it only right to do so. I understand that under the Standing Orders of the House I am not able to quote directly other than from the Minister in another place. Therefore I will report what Mr. Speed said—he is, of course, a gentleman whom the noble Baroness will know. He leads on local government matters in another place for the Party opposite. I do so not in order to make a debating point but to point out why the noble Baroness's friends in another place took the view that they did.
Mr. Speed made it clear that he attached great importance to the need for urgent action, and unless there was some guarantee given—which the Government were in no position to give—that we were going to act within 15 months, he thought it right to press ahead with these Amendments. If I may say so, I am sure the noble Baroness will have studied that speech with the care and attention that I have. It was not just Mr. Speed who took this view. He indicated that he had been having consul 94 tations with a number of his honourable friends who look after Home Office affairs in another place; so it was a fairly considered decision which was taken by the Opposition and was not just the debating skill of my honourable friend the Member for Leicester, South, who introduced this. It was a carefully considered decision that it was time for an interim measure. I am quite sure that the noble Baroness, when she studies that speech a second time, will come to the conclusion that it is really an extremely powerful argument which Mr. Speed put forward.
I would say that I perfectly accept the fact put by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord who has just spoken. It is a difficult matter when legislation is suddenly changed and a new major section is added to a Bill : l would not for a moment suggest the contrary. It means that when Government bring forward their own proposals there are normally prolonged discussions with the organisations concerned. Clearly, on this occasion they have had to be considerably speeded up; but they have taken place and if we are given the opportunity of doing so, we shall come back at Report stage with some Amendments. I would not suggest for a moment that all the interested parties will necessarily be wholly satisfied. I apologise for the fact that a major section of a Bill of this kind, which I would have hoped was of a non-controversial character, has raised so much concern in the minds of a number of interested bodies. I can only express the hope that when the continuing discussions produce new points, some of the Amendments we are prepared to put down at Report stage will at any rate meet some of the anxieties which have been expressed.
§ Viscount AMORY
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, has explained how this situation has arisen with his usual lucidity and fairness. l am very much impressed with some of the points raised by my noble friend Lady Young and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, which seem to argue that if this was passed in its present form absolute chaos would reign with some kinds of long-distance transport private hire firms. I myself feel that leaves us in a very difficult position at the moment. One feels that however this came to be passed in its present form in the other 95 place, even after the most careful consideration by Her Majesty's Opposition, if we in our subsequent discussions here come to the conclusion that the clauses as they stand would lead to chaos, then whatever the consequences to my Party—and I see the Chairman present here—and however disastrous the effects would be on our Party, I do not think we can leave the situation as it is.
The noble Lord said that on Report stage he hopes to introduce Amendments to meet a number of points. We do not know what those points are or how successfully they will be met, but I should like to make the point that this is not at all a satisfactory position. It we are of the opinion that chaotic results will follow even in some sections, then we ought to press Amendments at the right moment to sec that such chaotic results do not follow. It will depend on how far the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is able to go in satisfying the very realistic points raised by my noble friend Lady Young and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I am, of course, very grateful for the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that he intends to bring forward Amendments to this part of the Bill. I accept what my noble friend Lord Amory has said, that it will very much depend on the Amendments, and it is one of those cases of the proof of the pudding being in the eating, or at any rate, in the seeing. It is of course a serious matter, and we could argue interminably over who said what at Committee stage in another place; but, looking at it again, I feel that my honourable friend Mr. Speed did in fact ask the Minister whether representations had been made about this and whether any particular problems have arisen. Perhaps I might quote Mr. Oakes, at column 157:In answer to the hon. Gentleman's point, I understand that in the main outside organisations have been somewhat silent, except for one big operator who objected to the way in which the clauses were being presented to the House " [Official Report, Commons, 6/4/76.]That is perfectly true. Everybody was silent because they did not know they were to be included in the Bill: that is the substance of the point. I think it would be a more useful exercise to look forward to what we can do in this Chamber. In 96 the presence of the Party Chairman, perhaps I may say that I am sure he would agree that neither the Government nor the Opposition will feel that the greatest issue facing the country, and one which should divide us most, is the future of taxi cabs and private hire operators. That said, it does, of course, enormously affect hundreds of individuals and we must get it right. If there is some confusion here—
§ Viscount AMORY
Would my noble friend agree that I believe, on referring to the Party Chairman, she will find that we have nothing in our Election Manifesto committing ourselves on this matter?
§ Baroness YOUNG
I am, as always, most grateful to my noble friend Lord Amory for that reference. Had I thought of it, I should have looked up the Government's Party Manifesto and, if it was not in there, I should have thought this was the most compelling reason for taking out Part II of this Bill—and no doubt I should have had the support of a great number of Members on the Government side concerning that. I do think there has been a great deal of confusion about this part of the Bill, and I have been encouraged by a letter received from the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, about the interpretation of the Long Title of the Bill. I should like to quote her letter, in which she talks about this section:to make amendments of provisions of the law which relate to local authorities or highways and is commonly amended by local Acts ".She goes on to say:This is the key phrase which covers most of the Bill, i.e. those clauses which in different versions have commonly appeared in local Acts. The taxi provisions in Part II which were added in Committee are well precedented and fall under this heading … ".In fact, of course, the noble Baroness does not talk about the private hire provisions but only about the taxi provisions. Therefore it seemed to me there was a difference on the part of the Government as to whether or not these are covered by the Long Title, whether or not one of the Amendments the Government will have to put down will be a major Amendment to the Long Title so that this is covered, and whether at the moment it is not covered by the Bill. I hope that before we proceed further, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, can answer that point.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWIC
I resolved last week, when listening to the noble Baroness and my noble friend, not to become involved in a dispute about the Long Title of this Bill, which at that stage was a point beyond my comprehension and, I fear, still is. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness has raised an important point and I will look into it.
§ Clause 36 agreed to.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
Before your Lordships embark on the next clause, may I suggest that this may be a good moment to halt the Committee stage, if that is acceptable. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.